Germany flounders in Namibia genocide case

Germany flounders in Namibia genocide case

Germany has asked a US court to throw out a lawsuit brought by indigenous Namibian tribes seeking reparations for the genocide of their ancestors under German colonial rule after 1904. 

Germany has until February 9 to file another application to have the case thrown out.

It was the first time Germany has formally responded to the class-action suit launched by the Herero and Nama tribes in 2017 over the tens of thousands killed by colonial forces during the 1904-08 massacres.

The case will be keenly watched for legal precedents in the UK, France and Portugal, whose empires dwarfed that of Germany and who presided over countless, concealed atrocities.

“The complaint is inadmissible because of the principle of state immunity,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr told the media in Berlin after a New York judge held a brief hearing into the case.

“In accordance with US law it was necessary to formally convey this to the court. We did this through a lawyer,” said Adebahr.

The German government is under increasing domestic pressure to act. “I find it embarrassing that the German government is still not able to apologise to Namibia for the genocide against the Hereros and Namas,” Green Anton Hofreiter MP told German broadcaster ZDF.

US District Judge Laura Taylor Swain agreed to consider Germany’s request with the next hearing set for May 3.

Berlin has tried to ignore the legal proceedings. The government failed to send representatives to pre-trial discussions in New York last year. Efforts to serve the government with the court summons also failed and the German state senator for justice refused to acknowledge the papers.

“Many Namibians have quite a derogatory view of the German government,” said German-Namibian expert Henning Melber. “The German government has not done itself a favour by practising delaying tactics.”

In November 2017 the US embassy handed the German foreign ministry with the court papers and its diplomats sent them back six days later. “The service violates the sovereign immunity … and thus will be rejected,” a diplomatic note to the US authorities said.

Berlin has acknowledged that atrocities were carried out by the German colonial invaders but has repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations to the Nama and Herero.

Germany says development aid worth hundreds of millions of euros since Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990 had been “for the benefit of all Namibians”.



Herero women today. Picture credit: Flickr 

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