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US Court Hears Case Against Germany Over Namibia Genocide

A court in the United States has heard the first oral argumentation between representatives of the Herero and Nama people and representatives of the German government, in a case concerning damages for what has been termed the first genocide of the 20th century.
An estimated 100,000 Ovaherero and Nama people were killed between 1904 and 1908 as a result of a mass extermination policy initiated by German colonial troops in South West Africa, currently known as Namibia, when the territory was a German colony, Al Jazeera reported.
US District Judge Laura Taylor Swain on Tuesday presided over the one-hour hearing in New York, where a delegation of 50 Herero and Nama people from around the world joined the plaintiffs in attendance.
The key question under consideration was whether a US federal court has the jurisdiction to hear the case, brought by the indigenous people who seek compensation for their ancestors’ suffering.
In order for there to be a firm basis for jurisdiction in the US under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Herero and Nama need to demonstrate that wealth derived from the property taken during the German colonial period has a direct link to commercial property in the US.
Kenneth McCallion, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, argued that a number of German properties in New York were purchased as a direct result of the wealth accrued from slave labor and expropriation of property during the genocide.
He also argued that the sale of genocide victims’ human remains to the American Museum of Natural History demonstrates a valid commercial link between the genocide and American commercial interests.
Germany’s lawyer Jeffrey Harris argued plaintiffs had not sufficiently demonstrated a commercial link. He also said the presence of skulls at the AMNH was the result of a private donation from German anthropologist Felix von Luschan and not a commercial exchange.
Germany consequently argues that the US does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
Swain concluded the session by adjourning the case. She will render a decision on whether the US has jurisdiction over the case in the coming weeks, but has not set a date.
CAPTION: The Ovaherero and Nama delegation outside the District Court in New York on July 31

 

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