Tag Archives: reparations

U.S. Court to Hear Reparations Lawsuit Against German Government Over Colonial-Era Genocide In Present-Day Namibia

A federal court in New York is the venue in which a colonial-era genocide of over a century ago is being adjudicated. Germany is being made to answer for its legacy of atrocities in the former colony of German South West Africa, now known as Namibia. Indigenous people in Namibia, descendants of the victims of genocide, filed a suit against Germany in federal court in New York, demanding reparations for the mass murder of more than 100,000 people, in what amounted to the beginning of the bureaucratized killing of the 20th century, and a precursor to European genocide of the Second World War.

The complaint (pdf) in the class action suit was filed in January 2017 on behalf of the Ovaherero and Nama peoples of Namibia “for damages resulting from the horrific genocide and unlawful taking of property in violation of international law by the German colonial authorities during the 1885 to 1909 period,” in what was then South West Africa. The complaint also reads that the purpose of the complaint is to “enjoin and restrain the Federal Republic of Germany from continuing to exclude plaintiffs and other lawful representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama people from participation in discussions and negotiations regarding the subject matter of this Complaint, in violation of plaintiffs’ rights under international law, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People to self-determination for all indigenous peoples and their right to participate and speak for themselves regarding all matters relating to the losses that they have suffered.” The Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007 with a majority of 144 states favoring the treaty, and four countries — Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States — opposing it.

As the plaintiffs make the case in their complaint, their communities suffered when more than a quarter of their land — 50,000 square miles — and the cattle that formed the basis of their survival were seized without compensation by the German colonists. Colonial authorities looked the other way during the “widespread and systematic rape” of Ovaherero and Nama women and girls, and the use of forced free labor.

After learning they would be sent to concentration camps and the rest of their land confiscated, the Ovaherero rose up in 1904, followed by the Nama the following year. “The uprising was crushed by German Imperial troops under the command of General Lothar von Trotha, who announced that his goal was to annihilate the Ovaherero people. His orders were effectively carried out, resulting in the deaths of over 100,000 Ovaherero and Nama, with the remainder thrown into concentration camps under atrocious and sub-human conditions, where there was an extraordinarily high death toll, and the survivors who were well enough to stand were forced to work as forced/slave laborer. The surviving women were subjected to systematic rape and other abuses,” read the complaint.

The victims say that Germany entered into negotiations with the Republic of Namibia after decades of denying the German imperial authorities had committed genocide and refusing to consider reparations and compensation. Then Germany excluded representatives from the Ovaherero and Nama peoples, those who were the victims of the atrocities, and refused to admit that its actions constituted genocide, even after condemning Turkey for its genocide by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians in World War I. This suit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a 1789 law often used in human rights cases which grants jurisdiction to U.S. federal courts over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Last month, Germany — which has paid over $70 billion in reparations to the Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust by the Nazis — sought dismissal of the case by the Namibian victims of genocide. This, after ignoring the lawsuit, attempting to send back the court papers and claiming a violation of its sovereign immunity. Germany has acknowledged it committed the atrocities, but the nation has refused to pay reparations for the genocide, arguing instead that it has given millions of euros in development aid “for the benefit of all Namibians” since that country’s 1990 independence from South Africa.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., the former president of TransAfrica Forum, thinks the class action suit is very important. “What a lot of people don’t recognize is that the German genocide against native peoples in what is now known as Namibia is something historians have pointed to as a prototype for the Holocaust against the Jews,” Fletcher told Atlanta Black Star. Fletcher noted three things that are noteworthy here, the first being that any genocide must be publicized lest it can be justified and repeated. The second point is that the Namibian genocide paved the way for the Nazi German Holocaust. The third is that genocide is an international phenomenon, including in the Western Hemisphere, where 80 percent of the indigenous population was eliminated through diseases, wars and other causes, and in the Congo, where Leopold II of Belgium murdered 10 million people over a 10-year period. An important context, Fletcher says, is there is a genocidal gene in capitalism. “That genocidal gene can make its appearance in the most unusual of circumstances. It happens largely in the racialization of populations and them being rendered irrelevant,” he said.
Although the litigation has not reached a final dispensation, what is clear is that the United States is a little-known venue for cases involving international human rights violations, including those who seek reparations for genocide. What is also certain is Germany can no longer ignore and turn a blind eye to its legacy of genocide against the people of Namibia.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Ta-Nehisi Coates Calls for Harvard to Pay Reparations; University President Says ‘No’

In an attempt to atone for its role in human bondage, Harvard University on Friday, March 3, hosted a conference addressing the institution’s historic, and oftentimes forgotten, ties to slavery, with some participants even advocating for monetary reparations.

The conference, titled “Universities and Slavery: Bound by History,” was the latest in a series of efforts taken by the Ivy League university to confront its dark history of enslavement, The Harvard Crimson reported. The day-long symposium drew hundreds of guests from all over, featuring historians and representatives from several universities and a keynote address by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic.

University President Drew G. Faust delivered the opening remarks.

“Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the college’s earliest days in the 17th century,” said Faust, who announced plans for the conference in March 2016. “This history and its legacy have shaped our institution in ways we have yet to fully understand. Today’s conference is intended to help us explore parts of the past that have remained all but invisible.”

Coates built upon the president’s remarks in his keynote address, describing slavery and the impacts of racial discrimination that arose from it as “systems of plunder that haunt us to this day.” As an outspoken advocate for reparations, the well-known journalist pushed the idea on conference attendees Friday, asserting that racial progress requires institutions like Harvard to pay its debts to those that it enslaved.

“I think every single one of these universities needs to make reparations,” Coates said, as the audience erupted in applause. “I don’t know how you get around that, I just don’t. I don’t know how you conduct research that shows that your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and just say ‘Well,’ shrug — and maybe, at best, say ‘I’m sorry’ — and you walk away.

“I think you need to use the language of ‘reparation,‘” he continued. “I think it’s very, very important to actually say that word, to acknowledge that something was done in these institutions.”

In the past few years, the Cambridge, Mass., university has taken a number of steps to acknowledge its connection to slavery. In March of last year, the institution bent to mounting pressure to remove the family seal of notorious slave owner Isaac Royall. The controversial seal represented the law school for nearly a century and was adopted in 1937 to honor Royall’s contribution to the university, according to Atlanta Black Star.

Months later, the prestigious university recognized four enslaved persons — Titus, Venus, Jubah and Bilhah — who lived and worked on university grounds by dedicating the official residence of Harvard’s presidents in their honor.

Harvard isn’t the only university that has come clean about the role of slavery in its establishment. Earlier this year, a history professor at Columbia University published a report detailing how the transatlantic slave trade helped finance the school in its humble beginnings, while Georgetown University extended legacy admissions privileges to the descendants of 272 enslaved workers who were sold to keep the institution financially afloat in 1838.

History professor Sven Beckert, who has investigated Harvard’s ties to slavery in the past, said the process of unearthing this bitter history started in 2007 with a self-led seminar on the history of slavery at the university. Over the years, Beckert said his students discovered stories of enslaved Blacks who worked on campus under two Harvard presidents and uncovered endowment investments tied to the slave economy. One student, who presented the findings as part of her senior thesis on Friday, revealed that Harvard had used the Caribbean plantation of a former slave-holding donor as a botanical research outpost until 1961.

“When the students began to uncover a different history, they and others who listened to them were surprised,” Beckert said. “Yet, in retrospect, it seems that the only thing that should surprise us was our surprise and that it took so long for us to allow ourselves to be surprised by that history.”

Unlike Coates, Faust has stopped short of supporting reparations. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson last fall, Faust said offering repayment or preferential treatment like Georgetown University has wouldn’t be appropriate for Harvard, since it didn’t directly own slaves.

“I am not aware of any slaves that were owned by Harvard itself, and slavery was much less of a presence and an economic force in New England than it was in Washington, D.C., and the South,” she said. “Mostly, slave records were kept as economic records, business records, and the records we have of slaves at Harvard are much scarcer and less complete.”

Coates disagreed at Friday’s conference, asserting that atonement must involve some sort of monetary repayment.

The institution’s faculty committee is expected to continue studying Harvard’s ties to slavery and plans to release a set of recommendations to the University in the coming months, according to the newspaper.

By Tanasia Kenney
Posted by The NON-Conformist

White people just don’t get it: Bernie Sanders, Ta-Nehisi Coates and the reality of reparations

The well-being and political interests of African-Americans are routinely sacrificed on the mantle of political expediency in the United States.

 To wit. During an interview last month, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a declarative statement about reparations for the descendants of those many millions of black Americans whose lives, labor, blood, inventions and other property were stolen by centuries of bondage in the United States, and across the Black Atlantic:

No, I don’t think so. First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive. The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do.

So I think what we should be talking about is making massive investments in rebuilding our cities, in creating millions of decent paying jobs, in making public colleges and universities tuition-free, basically targeting our federal resources to the areas where it is needed the most and where it is needed the most is in impoverished communities, often African American and Latino.

More from Salon.com

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How Our Modern Way of Life Is Built on a Long Legacy of Slavery

Image:Otto Dettmer, NY Times

When Americans think about slavery, we think about the Civil War, cotton plantations in Georgia, and the legacy that those centuries of bondage left in the United States. But we forget that, 200 years ago, the institution in various forms extended throughout the world: hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian peasants were in debt bondage to landowners, indigenous slavery was widespread in Africa, and most people in Russia were serfs.

No slaves suffered more, however, than those who were force-marched to the African coast and, if they survived, transported in the packed, suffocating holds of sailing vessels across the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, too, we forget that it was not just to the United States that these ships brought their human cargo.  Far greater numbers of captive Africans in chains were shipped to the West Indies and to Latin America, especially Brazil. There, and in the Caribbean, the tropical climate and its diseases made field labor particularly harsh and the death rate especially high. At one time or another, however, slaves could be found almost everywhere in the Americas where Europeans had settled, from Quebec to Chile.

More from Alternet

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Confronting the Legacies of Slavery

Late one afternoon in March, officials unveiled a new monument at the University of the West Indies, in Cave Hill, Barbados. The ceremony featured African drumming, a historian’s lecture, a bishop’s prayer and a song performed by a school choir with the chorus, “We cry for the ancestors!”

Image:Otto Dettmer, NY Times

Those ancestors, 295 of whom have their names on the monument, were slaves who once lived where the campus now stands. What today is a university was once a plantation. What is now a nation was once a colony. In Barbados and throughout the Caribbean, slavery remains a vivid and potent metaphor, and a cultivated memory.

More from The NY Times

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Blood money: Pressure grows for compensation for the Caribbean trade

Image: Getty

LAST month Rodney Leon, a Haitian-American architect, won a competition for a memorial to victims of the slave trade. His white marble “Ark of Return”, shaped somewhat like a paper boat, will stand outside the UN headquarters in New York. Inside the building, some Caribbean leaders have used their annual General Assembly speaking slots to call for financial compensation for this great wrong. “We have recently seen a number of leaders apologising,” said the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Baldwin Spencer. They should now “match their words with concrete and material benefits”.

Britain ended its slave trade in 1807, and freed the slaves in its Caribbean colonies by 1838. The British government borrowed £20m, then around 40% of the budget, to meet 47,000 claims for loss of human property. The former slaves got nothing.

Close to two centuries on, Caribbean politicians want redress. The Caribbean Community (Caricom) which links former British colonies with Suriname and Haiti, established an official reparations commission in July and has approached a British legal firm, Leigh Day, for advice.

Few of history’s great wrongs have been smoothed over with cash. Attempts to make Germany pay for the first world war simply hastened the second. Ukraine has not sought compensation from Russia for those who died in Stalin’s famines and purges. Among the precedents for financial reparations, West Germany and Israel signed a financial agreement in 1952, seven years on from Auschwitz. In June this year, after legal action by Leigh Day, Britain conceded payments averaging £2,600 ($4,000) each for 5,228 now elderly Kenyans who were brutally mistreated during the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s. Britain’s courts will not now consider claims for atrocities occurring before 1954. Unpicking wrongs from 60 years ago is hard enough.

More from The Economist

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