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6 Sep 2001

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

German cos. lawsuit (by Hereros)

Status: CLOSED

Date lawsuit was filed
6 Sep 2001
Indigene Bevölkerungsgruppen
Ort der Einreichung: Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika
Ort des Vorfalls: Namibia
Art des Rechtsstreits: Transnational


Deutsche Bank Deutschland Finanzwesen & Banking


In 2001, members of the Herero tribe in Namibia sued Deutsche Bank, Woermann Line and the German Government in US court seeking reparations for genocide, alleging that the defendent companies were complicit in atrocities committed against the tribe during the colonial period. The case was dismissed in June 2004 for failure to state an actionable claim, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Subsequent refilings of the case against the companies were also dismissed.

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.