German attitude prompts third genocide hearing postponement in New York

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Kate Schoenbach

New York-The court hearing last week Thursday in the case lodged against Germany for colonial-era genocide in Namibia was postponed to January 2018. This was the third hearing for which Germany did not appoint counsel. Plaintiffs Vekuii Rukoro, chief of the Ovaherero, and Veraa Katuuo, founding member of the Association of the Ovaherero Genocide in the USA, were in attendance.

Nama Chief Johannes Isaack appeared on behalf of the third plaintiff, Chief David Frederick, who was unable to attend. The plaintiffs were joined by a large delegation of Ovaherero and Nama who travelled from Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and various areas throughout the United States.

Plaintiffs contend that Germany was responsible for the genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama during the colonial period, as well as the taking and expropriation of Ovaherero and Nama lands and other property without compensation, violating international law.

Plaintiffs also contend that representatives of Ovaherero and Nama communities have been left out of current negotiations between the German and Namibian governments on this issue. At a press conference following Thursday’s court hearing, Chief Rukoro said the Namibian government’s interest in the matter was to help boost treasury’s coffers.

“It’s due to their need to plug holes in their own budget … they have run out of money and can’t pay their bills,” he said in New York.

The plaintiffs’ case against Germany began on January 5, 2017 when they filed a class action lawsuit against Germany with a U.S. federal court in New York under the Alien Tort Statute, a law dating back to 1789, often invoked in human rights cases. A pre-trial conference was held in New York in March, but was rescheduled for July as Germany had not yet appointed counsel in the matter. The July conference was also postponed, as Germany had still failed to appoint counsel.

Plaintiffs had attempted to serve the defendant through legal and litigation support company, Crowe Foreign Service, through The Hague Service Convention. Once Germany refused acceptance, Crowe Foreign Service took the next steps available to the plaintiffs and initiated diplomatic service on Germany by asking the U.S. State Department to send the Summons and Complaint directly to the German Foreign Ministry under diplomatic cover.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ken McCallion, advised the court on Thursday that the U.S. State Department had not completed its review of the matter and that it had not yet served the Summons and Complaint to the German Foreign Ministry.
He also mentioned that, despite Germany’s refusal to accept the summons thus far, the genocide has had a “ripple effect” in New York. He noted that Namibian human remains from the genocide were found recently at the American Museum of Natural History, and that relevant documents were also found in New York’s Public Library.

McCallion requested an adjournment of the October conference to allow time for the U.S. State Department to complete its review and serve the German Foreign Ministry. Judge Laura Taylor Swain granted the request to postpone the case and rescheduled the conference to January 25, 2018.

Following Thursday’s court appearance, the Ovaherero and Nama delegation attended a media briefing at the New York Bar Association. Later that evening, they were invited to a panel discussion on the genocide at New York’s Columbia University Law School.

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