justice in perspective


In April 2006, the New York court concluded that the Washington, DC, court ruling was binding and dismissed the case against Deutsche Bank. The Woermann case was similarly dismissed. The Herero brought an appeal before the Third Circuit Court, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling in April 2007.

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africa namibiagifNamibia gained independence on 21 March 1990 after decades of oppression as a German colony and under rule by the South African apartheid government.

Between 1904 and 1908, the colonial government committed genocide against the Herero tribe and other indigenous groups in what was then German South West Africa. Many have called for a truth commission on these events, but because they took place at the beginning of the twentieth century, critics have deemed a truth commission impractical. In the absence of a truth commission, several lawsuits were filed on behalf of the Herero people. (Read more about the Herero court cases.)

In August 1994, the German government issued an apology for the genocide and promised that targeted development aid to Namibia would continue [BBC | Aug 2004]. Germany’s development-as-reparations approach has been criticised by Herero chiefs as inadequate.

In addition to advocacy related to the German colonial period, there have been calls for engaging with crimes committed by South African apartheid forces within Namibia. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission  stated that it had no jurisdiction over abuses that occurred beyond South Africa’s borders, but that its investigations had led it to conclude that “gross human rights violations on a vast scale” were perpetrated [TRC Report – Vol. 2  | 1998]. No amnesty applications were submitted in South Africa for crimes committed in Namibia, and the South African National Prosecuting Authority lost its case against Wouter Basson, former head of the secret chemical and biological project, which included charges for murder and attempted murder in Namibia. Calls to prosecute other individuals in South Africa have not yet borne fruit [All Africa  | Apr 2010].

Calls have also been made for accountability for pre-independence violations committed by South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO) against its own combatants. The SWAPO abuses took place in the 1980s, when the liberation movement began detaining and torturing Namibians suspected of spying for the South African government, and included extrajudicial killings and disappearances [Breaking the Wall of Silence].

The Namibian government has not heeded calls for the establishment of accountability or truth-seeking processes. This led to the September 2009 establishment of the Namibian Coalition of Transitional Justice, a group of Namibian civil society organisations advocating for transitional justice in the country [Namibian Coalition of Transitional Justice Charter  | 2009].