From the 19th century, Namibia’s indigenous communities were robbed of their land and their cattle and subsequently driven into exile, initially by missionaries and merchants under the direct responsibility of the colonial power of the German Kaiserreich. Between 1904 and 1908, the German Schutztruppe (“protection force”) forcefully suppressed the Ovaherero and Nama peoples’ uprisings and killed the majority of the population – estimates put the number of those killed at over 70,000. The genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama was the first genocide of the 20th century. The German government still refuses to pay reparations to the descendants of those affected.
Since 2018, ECCHR has been providing legal advice to representatives of the Namibian civil society, especially from the Ovaherero and Nama groups, and is working with them to help further communicate their demands – which include the repatriation of human remains to Namibia and the return of artworks stolen during the colonial era – in Germany. Our work aims to help decolonialize the law and address colonial injustices in Germany and Namibia. We seek to facilitate dialogue between the different actors in this field – for example through international symposia in Germany and Namibia.
Through its work on Namibia, ECCHR aims to highlight and question colonial continuities in the law. In proceedings before a US court, for instance, in which Ovaherero and Nama communities are suing Germany for the genocide, the German state has rejected the application of present-day international law. Instead, it prefers to rely on the law in force during colonial times – law that denied colonized peoples not only a status as subjects of international law, but also minimum protections under international humanitarian law. ECCHR seeks to highlight other viable legal arguments beyond the current dominant interpretations of the law in this area.