Reparations for Historical Human Rights Violations: The International and Historical Dimensions of the Alien Torts Claims Act Genocide Case of the Herero of Namibia

Abstract

Between 1904 and 1908, German colonialists in German South West Africa (GSWA, known today as Namibia) committed genocide and other international crimes against two indigenous groups, the Herero and the Nama. From the late 1990s, the Herero have sought reparations from the German government and several German corporations for what occurred more than a hundred years ago. This article examines and contextualizes the issues concerning reparations for historical human rights claims. It describes and analyzes the events in GSWA at the time. It further explores whether international humanitarian law and international human rights law today permit reparatations to be obtained. The article therefore examines the origins of international criminal law, as well as international human rights and humanitarian law, to determine whether what occurred then were violations of the law already in force. Finally, the article examines and evaluates the Herero reparations cases, as well as the potential impact of the cases on the wider reparations movement that sees an increasing number of claims for events that occurred during colonial times.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Jeremy Sarkin, “Reparation for Past Wrongs: Using Domestic Courts Around the World, Especially the United States, to Pursue African Human Rights Claims.” In International Journal of Legal Information 32(2), 2004: 452.

  2. 2.

    Ibid., 453.

  3. 3.

    Sarkin, Jeremy, “The Coming of Age of Claims for Reparations for Human Rights Abuses Committed in the South” in Sur International Journal on Human Rights, 2004: 67.

  4. 4.

    Jon M. Bridgman, The Revolt of the Hereros. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981): 70.

  5. 5.

    Ibid., 165.

  6. 6.

    Horst Drechsler, “Let Us Die Fighting:” The Struggle of the Herero and Nama against German Imperialism (1884–1915). (London: Zed Press, 1980): 155. Translated from original German by Bernd Zöllner.

  7. 7.

    See further Dugard, J. (ed). (1973). The South West Africa/Namibia dispute: Documents and scholarly writings on the controversy between South Africa and the United Nations. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  8. 8.

    Drechsler, H. (1986). Let us die fighting. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.

  9. 9.

    Bley, H. (1968). Kolonialherrschaft und Sozialstruktur in Deutsch-Südwestafrika 1894–1914. Hamburg, Leibniz; Bley, H. (1971). South West Africa under German rule 1894–1914. London: Heinemann.

  10. 10.

    Bridgman, J. (1981). The revolt of the Hereros. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

  11. 11.

    One such work is Nuhn, W. (2000). Feind überall: Der große Nama-Aufstand (Hottentottenaufstand) 1904–1908 in Deutsch-Südwestafrika (Namibia). Bonn: Bernard & Graefe.

  12. 12.

    Many recognise that what occurred was genocide; for example, Dreschler, Bley, Bridgman, Gewald and Krüger (Krüger, G. (1999). Kriegsbewältigung und Geschichtsbewusstsein: Realität, Deutung undVerarbeitung des deutschen Kolonialkriegs in Namibia, 1904 bis 1907. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). Yet, there are still those who deny this: Spraul, G. (1988). “Der ‘Völkermord’ an den Herero: Untersuchungen zu einer neuen Kontinuitätsthese”, 12 Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, 713–39.

  13. 13.

    See further Diebold, E., Engelhardt, S. & Iskenius, D. (2004, December). “Facing the past to liberate the future: Colonial Africa in the German mind”. 6 Humanity in Action. Reports of the 2004 Fellows in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, New York, 53–58.

  14. 14.

    Demonstrations have been held all over the world in favor of reparations for the Herero. One of those was held outside the United Nations in New York. See, for example, Brath, E. “African Liberation Day rally for reparations”. New York Amsterdam News, 20 May 2004.

  15. 15.

    See, for example, “Namibia marks century-old massacre amid calls for German compensation”. New York Times, 12 August 2004, A9.

  16. 16.

    Baumgart, W. (1987). “German imperalism in historical perspective”. In Knoll, A.J. & Gann, L.H. (eds), Germans in the tropics: Essays in German colonial history. New York / London: Greenwood Press, 151–164, 158.

  17. 17.

    According to Charles John Andersson, a Swedish explorer, “the Damara [the Hottentot name for Hereros, meaning simply black man], speaking generally, are an exceedingly fine race of men.” Quoted in Bridgman, 16.

  18. 18.

    Drechsler, 17.

  19. 19.

    Ibid., 17.

  20. 20.

    Bridgman, 17.

  21. 21.

    Ibid., 18–19.

  22. 22.

    Ibid., 19.

  23. 23.

    Heinrich Loth, Die christliche Mission in Südwestafrika. Zur destruktiven Rolle der Rheinischen Missionsgesellschaft beim Prozess der Staatsbildung in Südwestafrika (1842–1893) (Berlin 1963).

  24. 24.

    Jan-Bart Gewald, Herero Heroes (Cape Town: David Philip Publishers, 1999): 10.

  25. 25.

    Qtd. In Bridgman, 35.

  26. 26.

    Ibid., 20.

  27. 27.

    Ibid., 21.

  28. 28.

    Drechsler, 18.

  29. 29.

    Drechsler, 18.

  30. 30.

    Ibid., 18.

  31. 31.

    Ibid., 18.

  32. 32.

    Bridgman, 24.

  33. 33.

    Drechsler, 18.

  34. 34.

    Bridgman, 25.

  35. 35.

    Bridgman, 33.

  36. 36.

    Ibid., 33.

  37. 37.

    Sir James Edward Alexander, An Expedition of Discovery into the Interior of Africa, through the hitherto undescribed countries of the Great Namaqua, Boschmans, and Hill Damaras, (London: H. Colburn, 1838): 154–155.

  38. 38.

    Gewald, 14.

  39. 39.

    Ibid., 16.

  40. 40.

    The “war” actually was not so much fighting between armed forces as a series of cattle raids, and as such it was not particularly violent or destructive to either side.

  41. 41.

    Bridgman, 34.

  42. 42.

    Ibid., 36.

  43. 43.

    Ibid., 37.

  44. 44.

    Council for World Mission: History (accessed March 20, 2007) available from http://www.cwmission.org.uk.

  45. 45.

    Cecil Northcott, Glorious Company: One hundred and fifty years life and work of the London Missionary Society, 1795–1945. (London: Livingstone Press, 1945): 38.

  46. 46.

    Loth.

  47. 47.

    Ibid., 9.

  48. 48.

    Drechsler, 19.

  49. 49.

    Gewald, 18.

  50. 50.

    Bridgman, 35.

  51. 51.

    John H. Wellington, GSWA and Its Human Issues (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967): 160–161.

  52. 52.

    Bridgman, 35.

  53. 53.

    Drechsler, 19.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., 19.

  55. 55.

    Gewald, 31.

  56. 56.

    Drechsler, 19.

  57. 57.

    Ibid., 19.

  58. 58.

    Ibid., 20.

  59. 59.

    Ibid., 20.

  60. 60.

    Ibid., 20.

  61. 61.

    Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann, “Domestic Origins of Germany’s Colonial Expansion Under Bismarck,” Past and Present 42, no. 2 (1969): 143.

  62. 62.

    Ibid., 143.

  63. 63.

    Daniel Joseph Walther, Creating Germans Abroad: Cultural Policies and National Identity in Namibia. (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2002): 1.

  64. 64.

    Von Strandmann, 143.

  65. 65.

    Bridgman, 39.

  66. 66.

    Although only two of these wars were discussed in this paper, between 1830 and 1884, the Nama and the Herero actually fought four wars against each other.

  67. 67.

    Drechsler, 21.

  68. 68.

    Bridgman, 40.

  69. 69.

    Ibid., 40.

  70. 70.

    Drechsler, 22.

  71. 71.

    Bridgman, 41.

  72. 72.

    Rachel Anderson, “Redressing Colonial Genocide Under International Law: The Hereros’ Cause of Action Against Germany,” in California Law Review, July 2005: 5.

  73. 73.

    “1899 Hague Convention States Parties.” Accessed April 9, 2007. Available from http://www.opbw.org/int_inst/sec_docs/1899HC-SPS.pdf.

  74. 74.

    Jeremy Sarkin, “Historical Origins, Convergence, and Interrelationship of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law, International Criminal Law, and Public International Law and Their Applications Since the Nineteenth Century,” in Human Rights and International Legal Discourse, Volume 1 (2007), 145.

  75. 75.

    “General Act for the Repression of the African Slave Trade,” Brussels Conference, July 2, 1890.

  76. 76.

    Ibid., 5.

  77. 77.

    “Treaty,” in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed April 3, 2007. Available from http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9073266.

  78. 78.

    Drechsler, 28.

  79. 79.

    Drechsler, 27.

  80. 80.

    Anderson, 12.

  81. 81.

    Ibid., 10.

  82. 82.

    The Vienna Convention states that “a right arises for a third State from a provision of the treaty if the parties to the treaty intend the provision to accord that right to…the third State.” “Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties,” Article 36. Accessed April 10, 2007. Available from http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/1_1_1969.pdf.

  83. 83.

    Ibid., Article 4. Accessed April 10, 2007. Available from http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/1_1_1969.pdf.

  84. 84.

    Sarkin, “Historical Origins,” 146.

  85. 85.

    Ibid., 146, and Anderson, 8.

  86. 86.

    Gewald, 32.

  87. 87.

    Drechsler, 35.

  88. 88.

    Gewald, 38.

  89. 89.

    Drechsler, 35.

  90. 90.

    Gewald, 34.

  91. 91.

    Ibid., 34.

  92. 92.

    Qtd. In Drechsler, 43.

  93. 93.

    Ibid., 34–35.

  94. 94.

    Ibid., 35.

  95. 95.

    Ibid., 35.

  96. 96.

    Ibid., 50.

  97. 97.

    Ibid., 54.

  98. 98.

    Bridgman, 44–45.

  99. 99.

    Drechsler, 55.

  100. 100.

    Qtd. in Ibid., 70.

  101. 101.

    Gewald, 55.

  102. 102.

    Qtd. in Drechsler, 73.

  103. 103.

    Bridgman, 47.

  104. 104.

    Drechsler, 75.

  105. 105.

    Bridgman, 47.

  106. 106.

    Ibid., 48.

  107. 107.

    Drechsler, 75.

  108. 108.

    Ibid, 77.

  109. 109.

    Bridgman, 48.

  110. 110.

    Ibid., 50.

  111. 111.

    Ibid., 50.

  112. 112.

    Ibid., 50–51, 52.

  113. 113.

    Ibid., 51.

  114. 114.

    Ibid., 52.

  115. 115.

    Drechsler, 133.

  116. 116.

    Ibid., 135.

  117. 117.

    “General Act of the Conference at Berlin,” Article VI. February 26, 1885. Available from http://ocid.nacse.org/qml/research/tfdd/toTFDDdocs/4ENG.htm. Accessed March 21, 2007.

  118. 118.

    Ibid.

  119. 119.

    Drechsel, 132.

  120. 120.

    Drechsler, 132–133.

  121. 121.

    Gewald, 142.

  122. 122.

    Gewald, 159–160.

  123. 123.

    Gewald, 159–160.

  124. 124.

    John Grobler, “The Tribe Germany Wants to Forget,” in Mail and Guardian, March 13, 1998. Accessed March 30, 2007. Available from http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/courses/306/herero.html.

  125. 125.

    Bridgman, 70.

  126. 126.

    Drechsler, 143–144.

  127. 127.

    Bridgman, 74.

  128. 128.

    Drechsler, 144.

  129. 129.

    Gewald, 165, 167.

  130. 130.

    Drechsler, 155.

  131. 131.

    Drechsler, 155.

  132. 132.

    Ibid., 155.

  133. 133.

    Gewald, 171–172.

  134. 134.

    Qtd. in ibid., 172–173.

  135. 135.

    Drechsler, 158–159.

  136. 136.

    Bridgman, 131.

  137. 137.

    Ibid., 131.

  138. 138.

    Gewald, 185.

  139. 139.

    Bridgman, 137.

  140. 140.

    Drechsler, 179.

  141. 141.

    Ibid., 190.

  142. 142.

    Ibid., 192.

  143. 143.

    Bridgman, 131.

  144. 144.

    Ibid., 165.

  145. 145.

    Ibid., 165.

  146. 146.

    Ibid., 188.

  147. 147.

    Ibid, 187.

  148. 148.

    Ibid., 165.

  149. 149.

    “UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2.” Accessed March 21, 2007. Available from http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html.

  150. 150.

    Qtd. in Drechsler, 155.

  151. 151.

    Whitaker, Benjamin, Revised and Updated Report on the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, July 2, 1985. Accessed March 21, 2007. Available from http://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G85/123/55/pdf/G8512355.pdf?OpenElement.

  152. 152.

    Ibid., 8.

  153. 153.

    Qtd. in Ibid., 8.

  154. 154.

    James Crawford, qtd. in “German Bank Accused of Genocide,” BBC News, September 25, 2001. Accessed March 21, 2007. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1561463.stm.

  155. 155.

    Whitaker, 1.

  156. 156.

    Sarkin, Historical Origins,” 164.

  157. 157.

    Ibid., 164.

  158. 158.

    Ibid., 159.

  159. 159.

    Ibid., 167.

  160. 160.

    Ibid., 168.

  161. 161.

    Allan D. Cooper, “Reparations for the Herero Genocide: Defining the Limits of International Litigation,” in African Affairs, January 2007 (106.) Accessed April 12, 2007. Available from http://afraf.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy.library.tufts.edu/cgi/content/full/106/422/113.

  162. 162.

    “London Charter of the International Military Tribunal: Article 6(c)” Accessed April 12, 2007. Available from http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/imtconst.htm.

  163. 163.

    “France, Great Britain, and Russia Joint Declaration,” May 29, 1915. Accessed April 12, 2007. Available from http://www.armenian-genocide.org/Affirmation.160/current_category.7/affirmation_detail.html.

  164. 164.

    See Sarkin’s “Historical Origins, Convergence, and Interrelationship of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law, International Criminal Law, and Public International Law and Their Applications Since the Nineteenth Century,” in Human Rights and International Legal Discourse, Volume 1 (2007) for a full explanation of the Martens Clause and its applicability to the concept of crimes against humanity.

  165. 165.

    Sarkin, “Historical Origins,” 128.

  166. 166.

    “Martens Clause,” in “Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague II),” July 29, 1899. http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague02.htm. Accessed July 14, 2007.

  167. 167.

    Sarkin, “Historical Origins,” 128.

  168. 168.

    Ibid., 129.

  169. 169.

    Qtd. in Ibid., 146–7.

  170. 170.

    Ibid., 147–8.

  171. 171.

    “General Act of the Conference at Berlin,” Article VI.

  172. 172.

    “1899 Hague Convention States Parties.”

  173. 173.

    “Second Hague Convention: Laws and Customs of War on Land: Article 23,” July 29, 1899. Accessed April 10, 2007. Available from http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague02.htm.

  174. 174.

    Gewald, 170–174.

  175. 175.

    Sarkin, Jeremy, “The Coming of Age” in Sur International Journal on Human Rights, 2004.

  176. 176.

    Grobler.

  177. 177.

    Ibid.

  178. 178.

    Ryan Michael Spitzer, “The African Holocaust: Should Europe Pay Reparations to Africa for Colonialism and Slavery?” in Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 2002.

  179. 179.

    Sarkin, Jeremy, “The Coming of Age” in Sur International Journal on Human Rights, 2004.

  180. 180.

    Jeremy Sarkin, “The Coming of Age” in Sur International Journal on Human Rights, 2004: 75.

  181. 181.

    Sarkin, “Historical Origins,” 138, and Ware v. Hylton, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 199 (1796).

  182. 182.

    Sarkin, “Historical Origins,” 138.

  183. 183.

    Qtd. in Ibid., 138.

  184. 184.

    “Germany Admits Namibia Genocide,” BBC News, September 25, 2001. Accessed February 24, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3565938.stm.

  185. 185.

    Cooper

  186. 186.

    Sarkin, “Reparation for Past Wrongs:” 452.

  187. 187.

    Qtd. in “Alien Tort Claims Act,” Accessed March 22, 2007. Available from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu.

  188. 188.

    Cooper.

  189. 189.

    Ibid.

  190. 190.

    Sarkin, “Reparations:” 438, 440.

  191. 191.

    Daphne Eviatar, “A Big Win for Human Rights,” in The Nation, May 9, 2005.

  192. 192.

    Sarkin, “The Coming of Age” 83.

  193. 193.

    Cooper.

  194. 194.

    In 2004, Anthony Sebok of the Brooklyn Law School wrote that he feared the Supreme Court would attempt to narrow the scope of ATCA in the coming years at the behest of the Bush Administration (Anthony Sebok, “Is the Alien Tort Claims Act a Powerful Human Rights Tool?” Accessed February 20, 2007. Available from http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/07/12/sebok.alien.tort.claims/). The Bush Administration has been a vocal opponent of ATCA as a human rights tool, going so far as to urge the Supreme Court to eliminate ATCA for this purpose (Cooper).

  195. 195.

    There were originally three corporations implicated by Herero claims, but the case against Terex was dropped when the company demonstrated that they had changed management since the time of the genocide.

  196. 196.

    Sarkin, “The Coming of Age,” 82.

  197. 197.

    Cooper.

  198. 198.

    Ibid.

  199. 199.

    Ibid.

  200. 200.

    Sarkin, “Reparations,” 454.

  201. 201.

    Brigitte Weidlich, “Government Supports Herero Reparation Demands,” in The Namibian, February 21, 2007.

  202. 202.

    Brigitte Weidlich, “German Reconciliation Drive Finally Starts,” in The Namibian, January 4, 2007.

  203. 203.

    Ibid.

  204. 204.

    “Transitional Justice Developments in Southern Africa: Namibia,” in African Transitional Justice Research Network Newsletter, March 2007.

  205. 205.

    Henning Hintze, “German Parliament to Discuss Genocide,” in The Namibian, March 8, 2007.

  206. 206.

    Norimitsu Onishi, “Japan Stands by Declaration on ‘Comfort Women,’” in The New York Times, March 16, 2007. Accessed March 16, 2007. Available from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/16/world/asia/16cnd-japan.html?ex=1331697600&en=30277f921905300&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss.

  207. 207.

    “Illinois: Court Rejects Slave Reparation Claims,” in The New York Times, December 14. 2006. Accessed March 16, 2007. Available from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/14/us/14brfs-SLAVE.html?ei=5070&en=1940acc5d5d496d9&ex=1177300800&pagewanted=all.

  208. 208.

    Cooper.

  209. 209.

    Ibid.

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Sarkin, J., Fowler, C. Reparations for Historical Human Rights Violations: The International and Historical Dimensions of the Alien Torts Claims Act Genocide Case of the Herero of Namibia. Hum Rights Rev 9, 331–360 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-007-0053-z

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Keywords

  • German colonialists
  • Genocide
  • Herero