Institute - Activism & Arts - Namibia

German responsibility for (post-)colonial injustice

Institute - Activism & Arts - Namibia

German responsibility for (post-)colonial injustice

The German genocide committed against the Ovaherero and Nama peoples in Namibia (1904-08) was the first genocide of the 20th century. The German government has to date failed to offer an official apology or pay any reparations to the descendants of those affected. Today however (post-)colonial crimes and their impact are being discussed with increasing frequency and openness.

As a transnational human rights organization based in Berlin, ECCHR sees its role to be the furtherance of dialogue between the different actors in this field. This is being done on several levels, in Germany as well as in Namibia. Collective traumas and the social and economic imbalances caused by land grabbing and the genocide persist and can only be overcome through a joint effort by as many affected persons and actors as possible. ECCHR’s work on Namibia also aims to highlight colonial continuities in the law that persist in Germany.

Project

ECCHR advises Ovaherero and Nama on legal issues and supports them in communicating their demands – like the repatriation of human remains to Namibia or the return of artworks stolen during the colonial era – in Germany.

Following the symposium "Colonial Repercussions" in January 2018, a delegation from ECCHR was invited to Namibia for the commemoration of the Battle of Ohamakari (1904). The battle marks the starting point of the German genocide of the Ovaherero and later Nama peoples. The visit to Namibia was followed by the international conference "Namibia: A Week of Justice" organized by ECCHR together with the Goethe-Institut, the Akademie der Künste and representatives of Ovaherero and Nama in March 2019 in Windhoek and Swakopmund.

The conference and related side events discussed current questions of (post-)colonial injustice, for example: Who is talking about whom? Which perspectives and memories are part of the conversation, which ones are ignored? What kind of justice is needed to address (post)colonial injustice? How can we achieve a truly constructive and forward-thinking discourse?

Context

Since 2015, official negotiations have been underway between Namibia and Germany which aim to jointly address the genocide and other colonial crimes. However, addressing colonial injustices in a genuine way – going beyond negotiations between states – is a broader process to be undertaken by societies as a whole.

Part of ECCHR's work is to present legal arguments and interpretations that are ignored by the German government and the current predominant legal opinion in Germany. This especially concerns questions of compensation and reparation for the genocide and land grabbing which we approach from a postcolonial legal perspective.

The development of international law is closely interwoven with European colonialization. Colonial violence was frequently covered up and injustice developed into a legal system. Colonial continuities persist in today's international law as well as in international economic and trade structures.