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Main Content: German cos. lawsuit (by Hereros)

Case profile: German cos. lawsuit (by Hereros)

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Members of the Herero tribe in Namibia sued Deutsche Bank and Woermann Line (doing business as Deutsche Afrika-Linien GmbH & Company) in US court in 2001 seeking reparations for genocide.  The same plaintiffs brought a separate action in the same court against the German Government also seeking reparations.  The allegations against these companies stem from their involvement with the Imperial German Government in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) during the early 20th century.  The Herero plaintiffs allege that these defendant companies were complicit in the atrocities committed against the Herero people during the colonial period.  They allege crimes against humanity, forced labour and genocide.  In the late 1800s German settlers began moving into the land of the Herero people.  In 1903 the Herero rose in revolt, and the rebellion was put down brutally.  The German commander issued a proclamation: "Any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun will be shot.  I shall no longer receive any women or children; I will drive them back to their people.  I will shoot them."  The Herero were machine-gunned and their wells were poisoned.  From 1904 to 1907 about 65,000 Herero (75% of the tribe) were killed or died from starvation after being forcibly relocated to the desert.  Germany recently offered an apology for the massacres. 


The case was originally filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, but the case was removed to federal court – US District Court for the District of Columbia.  The case was dismissed on 11 Jun. 2004 for failure to state an actionable claim.  The plaintiffs appealed to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. 


The case for reparations against Deutsche Bank was refiled in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.  In Apr. 2006, the court dismissed the case following a motion to dismiss by Deutsche Bank.  This motion argued for dismissal of the case on the basis of res judicata; under this doctrine, if a final judgment has been issued in an earlier lawsuit, a subsequent judge hearing a case that is the same (or substantially the same) as the previously-judged case must preserve the first judgment rather than deciding the case anew.


The case against Woermann was refiled in the US District Court of New Jersey with the Herero alleging forced enslavement and crimes against humanity under the Alien Tort Claims Act.  In Jan. 2006 the court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiffs failed to state a valid cause of action under ATCA and that the applicable statute of limitations had expired.  The plaintiffs appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, but the court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling in Apr. 2007.


- “Namibia Presses for Reparations From Germany”, Mail & Guardian Online [South Africa], 4 Jun 2005

- “Germany Urges Herero to Drop Lawsuit”, Deutsche Welle [Germany], 5 Aug 2004

- “Namibian tribe sues Germany for genocide”, Christopher Munnion, Telegraph [UK], 30 Jan 2003

- “German Firms Seek Dismissal of Herero Legal Suit”, Southern African Documentation and Cooperation Centre, 6 Jun 2002

- “German Bank Accused of Genocide”, BBC News, 25 Sep 2001


- US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit: [PDF] Hereros et al. v. Deutsche Afrika-Linien GmbH & Co., 10 Apr 2007

- US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia: [PDF] The Herero People's Reparations Corporation, et al. v. Deutsche Bank, A.G. and Woermann Line, d/b/a Deutsche Afrika–Linien GmbH & Co., 11 Jun 2004

- [PDF] The Herero People's Reparation Corporation et al. v. Deutsche Bank AG et al. - First Amended Complaint, Sep 2001 [filed with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia]

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