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New York court dismisses Namibia genocide compensation suit

Herero tribal chief Vekuii Rukoro, pictured in March 2017, called a New York federal court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit seeking genocide-related compensation "a disappointing ruling for us all"
Herero tribal chief Vekuii Rukoro, pictured in March 2017, called a New York federal court's decision to dismiss a lawsuit seeking genocide-related compensation "a disappointing ruling for us all" AFP/File
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New York (AFP)

A New York federal court has dismissed a lawsuit by the Herero and Nama tribes seeking compensation from Germany for the genocide of their ancestors in what is now Namibia.

In a 23-page judgment dated Wednesday, Judge Laura Taylor Swain said that the principle of sovereign immunity of a state applied, rendering the case inadmissible.

The two tribes were seeking compensation for the persecution their members suffered in what was known as German South West Africa during colonial rule from 1884-1915. The territory has since become Namibia.

Tens of thousands of members of the Herero tribe and some 10,000 Namas were killed from 1904-1908 after rebelling against German rule.

"This is indeed a disappointing ruling for us and all nations of the world who are committed to justice and fairness for all," Herero chief Vekuii Rukoro said in a statement read at a news conference.

"We assert that Judge Swain has made some fundamental errors of law in her jurisdictional analysis and we are determined to see to it that this decision is reversed on appeal and that our claims for reparations shall proceed."

The plaintiffs argued that two exceptions to the principle of sovereign immunity -- one covering state commerce outside the US that causes a "direct effect" inside the country, and another on property taken in violation of international law -- applied in the case.

The plaintiffs said that, among other issues, the presence of bones of genocide victims -- which were sold by the wife of a German anthropologist to the American Museum of Natural History -- constitutes a "direct effect" under the commercial activity exception.

And they said that the "takings" exception applied since plunder from Namibia went to Germany, which then purchased four buildings in New York.

But Swain ruled that in the first case, plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a "direct effect" in the US, while in the second, they did not sufficiently demonstrate the existence of commercial activity necessary for the exception to apply.

The court "lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the ... commercial activity and takings exceptions," Swain wrote.

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