In its first formal response to a class-action suit filed by the Herero and Nama people of Namibia, Germany has asked a New York judge to throw out the suit as “inadmissible” because of “the principle of state immunity.”
The indigenous people have been seeking reparations for the genocide of their peoples under German colonial rule in the early part of the 20th century.
From 1885 to 1903 about a quarter of the land belonging to the Ovaherero and Nama — thousands of square miles — were taken without compensation by German settlers with the consent of colonial authorities.
Those authorities also turned a blind eye to rapes by German colonists of Ovaherero and Nama women and girls, according to witness reports, and forced labor was instituted.
Insurrections in early 1904 by the Ovaherero were crushed by German imperial troops. Only 15,000 Herero survived a massacre of some 80,000 including women and children. Similarly, some 10,000 Nama were killed during the rebellion. It is believed that over 100,000 Ovaherero and Nama people were killed in the 1904-1908 massacres, according to multiple sources.
Germany has acknowledged that atrocities occurred at the hands of German colonial authorities, but it has repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations.
They argue that their development aid worth hundreds of millions of euros since Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990 was “for the benefit of all Namibians”.
Judge Laura Taylor Swain in New York’s Southern District initially rejected the German’s motion to dismiss. However this week she reinstated their motion which maintains that the case has no jurisdiction in New York. The Hereros now have a new deadline of Feb. 14 to file an amendment.
Hereros are also seeking to have monuments dedicated to fallen German soldiers removed from public spaces.
Meanwhile, members of the German opposition criticized the government for its slow progress towards a settlement. “I find it embarrassing that the German government is still not able to apologize to Namibia for the genocide against the Hereros and Namas,” Green Party member Anton Hofreiter told German broadcaster ZDF.
Still on the table is a “particularly affected communities trust pact” which Germany would run in the Herero and Nama territories in four areas: vocational training, electricity supply, affordable accomodation and land reform.
Finally, a collection of human skulls and skeletons, stolen from what was called German Southwest Africa, are stored in New York at the American Museum of Natural History in a private room since their purchase from Austrian anthropologist Felix von Luschan. His entire collection, including the Namibian skulls, doubled the museum’s physical anthropology holdings and established the A.M.N.H. as a leader in the field