During the German colonial rule of Namibia about 65 000 Herero and 10 000 Nama were victims of the German empire’s repression. Although the European nation has refused to accept responsibility for the genocide that left indigenous peoples slaughtered and starved in their concentration camps, they returned over 40 Herero and Nama skulls for burial in 2011.
A lawsuit lodged by the descendants of the Herero and Nama people, demanding compensation for damages over genocide and property seizures, has been rejected. According to the global news agency AFP, the plaintiffs argued that two exceptions to the principle of sovereign immunity, one covering state commerce outside the US that causes a “direct effect” inside the country, and another on property taken in violation of international law, applied in the case.
They maintained that, among other issues, the presence of bones of genocide victims, which were sold by the wife of a German anthropologist to the American Museum of Natural History, constitutes a “direct effect” under the commercial activity exception. They said that the “takings” exception applied since plunder from Namibia went to Germany, which then purchased four buildings in New York.
US district judge Laura Taylor Swain proclaimed that Germany’s immunity from claims by descendants of the Herero and Nama peoples hindered her jurisdiction over its role in what happened in German South West Africa.
The court “lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the … commercial activity and takings exceptions,” Swain wrote.
According to AFP, she ruled that in the first case, plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a “direct effect” in the US, while in the second, they did not sufficiently demonstrate the existence of commercial activity necessary for the exception to apply.
Responding to the verdict, Herero chief Vekuii Rukoro said in a statement read at a news conference, “This is indeed a disappointing ruling for us and all nations of the world who are committed to justice and fairness for all.”
“We assert that Judge Swain has made some fundamental errors of law in her jurisdictional analysis and we are determined to see to it that this decision is reversed on appeal and that our claims for reparations shall proceed… It is merely a temporary setback in our journey and in no way the end of the struggle for us.”