Colonial repercussions: Germany and Namibia

Institute – (Post)Colonial Crimes – Namibia

The German genocide committed against the Ovaherero and Nama peoples in Namibia (1904-08) was the first of the 20th century. Throughout its colonial rule, Germany disposessed the Namibian population, racially oppressed them and deprived them of their rights. The German government refuses to this day to pay reparations. Today, however, (post)colonial crimes and their impact are being discussed with increasing frequency and openness.


ECCHR works to legally address erman colonial crimes in Namibia. We closely cooperate with representatives of Namibian civil society as well as of the Nama, Ovaherero and San. In June 2021, the German and Namibian governments published a Joint Declaration to come to terms with the genocide in Namibia. However, the years-long negotiations disregarded the participation rights of those affected, excluded civil society, and still did not legally recognize the colonial crimes.

Historically, some colonial crimes have already been –addressed, but not legally. Former colonial powers all too often try to evade their responsibility. All too often, former colonial powers try to evade their responsibility. This is also the case of the German government, which in its “reconciliation agreement” only wants to acknowledge the genocide “from today’s perspective” and refuses to pay actual reparations.

Colonialism has not only left wounds in Namibia: the systematic transfer of wealth has led to social and economic inequality in all former colonies, and the racist violence has caused trauma. In Germany, the racism that “justified” colonialism has also become deeply inscribed into society and the law.


Because the Joint Declaration of the Namibian and German governments neglected the participation rights of affected communities, ECCHR and its partners also turned to the relevant UN institutions. In September 2021, the Nama Traditional Leaders Association, Ovahereo Traditional Authority, Botswana Society for Nama, Ovaherero and Ovambanderu, Berlin Postkolonial and ECCHR submitted an Alternative Report to the UN Human Rights Committee, the treaty body of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The submission intendes to increase pressure on the German government to initiate a new process that complies with international human rights standards.

With international decolonial theorists and artists, ECCHR is repeatedly raising public attention about German crimes in Namibia: in 2018, with the Koloniales Erbe/Colonial Repercussions symposium at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, and one year later in Namibia in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, the Akademie der Künste and representatives of Ovaherero and Nama at the international conference Namibia: A Week for Justice. In November 2019, the symposium Colonial Repercussions V: The Namibian Case followed at the Akademie der Künste.

From the meetings and discussions during the series of events, partnerships and joint initiatives are increasingly emerging to specifically demand Germany’s legal responsibility.   


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Find additional information on the events of the series Koloniales Erbe/Colonial Repercussions

The events held as part of Namibia: A Week of Justice – including the symposium Colonial Injustice – Addressing Past Wrongs from 25-26 March 2019 in Windhoek and the conference International Law in Postcolonial Contexts from 27-29 March in Swakopmund – were the first of their kind in Namibia. The central topics were the German genocide against the Ovaherero and Nama peoples (1904-08) and ways forward for addressing these past wrongs in a dignified manner.

The public event in Windhoek was organized by ECCHR and the Akademie der Künste (AdK) in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Namibia. The conference, workshops and public event in Swakopmund were part of a joint project by ECCHR and AdK together with the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation (OGF), the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA) and the Nama Genocide Technical Committee (NGTC).

The event series in Namibia attracted strong interest from a broad variety of civil society actors: lawyers, artists, constitutional historians and civil society experts came together for discussions at panels and other sessions throughout the week. Participants included: Bonita Meyersfeld (Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg/South Africa), Makau Mutua (University of Buffalo, USA), Vasuki Nesiah (New York University), John Nakuta (University of Namibia), Jürgen Zimmerer (Universität Hamburg), Werner Hillebrecht (former director of the Namibian national archive) and Wolfgang Kaleck (ECCHR).

The Week of Justice was documented in the ECCHR publication Colonial Repercussions: Namibia.

The goal of the symposium Symposium V: The Case of Namibia was to trace the complex repercussions and interdependencies of German colonization in present-day Namibia and to increase their visibility in Germany. To this end, speakers from the law, politics and the arts presented perspectives on the effects of colonization, a potential constructive approach and exchange with civil society in Germany.

This was the third symposium in the Colonial Repercussions event series organized by ECCHR and Akademie der Künste Berlin, in cooperation with the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb). Topics and questions addressed during the Week of Justice from March 2019 were played back to Berlin.

Speakers included Ida Hoffmann (Nama Genocide Technical Committee), John Nakuta (University of Namibia) and Joshua Castellino (Minority Rights Group). The symposium was accompanied by the installation They tried to bury us by Namibian artist Isabel Tueumuna Katjavivi.

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glossary (4)


Postcolonial legal criticism

The academic field of postcolonial legal criticism looks at the repercussions of colonialism and imperialism today. In this context, law is seen as a social and cultural construct which changes over time. During the period of colonialization by European states, national and international law developed in a way that made it possible to legitimize for example slavery and genocide. European law, with its often racist elements, spread to many parts of the world in the course of colonialization.

Postcolonial theoreticians show how imperial laws served to cover up colonial violence and how injustice was legitimized through the fig leaf of law. The law was used, for example, to deny indigenous populations in the colonies their status as legal persons. The development of international law was also closely interwoven with colonialization. Postcolonial legal criticism today tries to uncover and challenge colonial continuities in both national and international law.


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