Descendants of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia have sued Germany for damages in the United States for a campaign of genocide by German colonial troops in the early 1900s, which led to more than 100,000 deaths.
According to the complaint filed with a US District Court on Thursday, Germany has excluded the plaintiffs from talks with Namibia over possible reparation payments, which are expected to be completed before June 2017. Germany would furthermore have publicly said that any settlement will not include reparations to victims, even if compensation is awarded to Namibia itself.
Colonial Germany ruled Namibia from 1884 to 1915. Between 1904 and 1907 the Herero and Nama people rebelled against the colonial rule, which led to a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment. Thousands died of thirst and starvation and many others were sent to concentration camps.
The complaint was filed under the US Alien Tort Statute which allows victims of serious human rights abuses committed abroad to sue those responsible in US courts. The law’s reach was narrowed by the US Supreme Court in 2013 when it decided in the case of Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co that the law did not cover foreign conduct unless claims sufficiently “touch and concern” the territory of the United States. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that this and later rulings left open the possibility of US courts asserting jurisdiction in genocide cases.