Detail of Battle Between Herero Warriors and German Colonials, February 1904.
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.
by Dr Filippo Fontanelli
The International Court of Justice
With the decision no. 238 of 22 October 2014, the Italian Constitutional Court (the CC) produced the most spectacular display of dualism this side of Medellin. The CC declared the unconstitutionality of Italy’s compliance with the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s judgment Germany v. Italy (Greece intervening). The CC’s ruling – briefly reported – invites speculation on two fronts: 1) What does it say about the application of international law in domestic courts? 2) Is the judgment reasonable by any relevant standards other than Italian constitutional law?
On the practical matters of the follow-up scenario before Italian ordinary courts, I take the liberty to refer to my discussion here (spoiler: Germany will not pay anyway).
In February 2012, the ICJ found that Italy breached its international obligations vis-à-vis Germany. Italian courts had exercised jurisdiction in tort proceedings against Germany, instituted by Italian plaintiffs for World War II war crimes of the Nazi occupation forces in Italy. These proceedings, resulting in Germany being ordered to compensate the victims, constituted internationally wrongful acts, since they disregarded the international custom whereby sovereign states are immune from civil suit in foreign courts, for acts jure imperii. The ICJ reached the same conclusion with respect to the ensuing enforcement proceedings and the exequatur granted by Italian judges to authorise execution of Greek judgments in similar disputes. Continue reading