“Only full reparation can remedy past wounds”

Kae Matundu

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) Special Rapporteurs are requesting for answers from both the Namibian and German governments regarding the way in which they have been dealing with the issue of Genocide, Apology and Reparations.

While it has written to both governments this February, this has become public only this month. But be that as it may be, the UN is raising pertinent questions as well as making very fundamental observations. Observations which descendants all along have been raising and impressing upon our Namibian government and its German counterpart.

With regard to the Namibian government, they are observing crucially and fundamentally the inalienability of the descendants from their own cause, as well as their rights in this cause. “The affected communities were offered a role as technical advisors, without decision-making power, within the interstate bilateral negotiating framework,” the Special Rapporteurs are observing about the so-called participation by a section of the descendants in the negotiations since 2015, which led to the Joint Declaration (JD) agreement between the two governments in May 2021.

Meaning those descendants who presumably have been part and parcel of the negotiations, have essentially been taken for ride by the two governments, that conveniently and for their own bilateral agendas have arrogantly and unfaithfully unilaterally abrogated the whole issue and the negotiations to themselves.

Not only this but it further observes that while the negotiations were supposed to have been based on the 2006 National Assembly Resolution, which was and has been about Genocide and Reparations, the two governments have departed from it, reducing and relegating the negotiations to bilateral aid instead, aid which is not based on the genocide committed against the Ovaherero and Nama.

The Rapporteurs are further noting that the Namibian government, as far as the issue of genocide committed to the Ovaherero and Nama is concerned, cannot claim any legitimacy in its own right, nor be equals to the very direct victims, the Ovaherero and Nama, whose rights on this issue is and remains not only inalienable but who also are the cardinal actors in this matter. And thus their rights and importance thereof cannot, shall not and should never be superseded by any right and/or legitimacy that the Namibian government would wish to claim and arrogate itself, whether on their behalf or not.

“We wish to recall that the legal status of the Ovaherero and Nama peoples, and their representatives as indigenous peoples under international and national law, is different and separate from that of the Namibian government itself, and thus requires a place of its own in the negotiations,” maintain the Rapporteurs.

One cannot but make an analogy in this regard with the Jewish claim for reparations against Germany for the Holocaust. Where and when the Jewish not only presented their own claim but did so themselves through the Jewish Claims Conference.

They also note the steadfast disinclination of the German government to accept what happened as genocide and interpret and approach it from a political and moral perspective, thereby invoking and/or arguing the intertemporal nature and/or principle in international law in this matter, avoiding legal responsibility for genocide. “This, in turn, entails from the Government of Germany’s perspective a lack of recognition of Germany’s legal obligation to provide reparation to affected communities,” they observe. Hence even the Joint Declaration (JD)’s disinclination to “afford reparation measures to victims, rather it establishes that a reconstruction and development support programme will be set up by both Governments”.

Further noting that: “Scope and intent of the crimes committed, which are rightly characterised as genocide- and therefore a crime against humanity- are of a severity which cannot be construed under any legal or historical interpretation as being subject to temporal limitations or prescription and, as such, reliving the perpetrator from legal liability and the duty to provide redress to the affected communities who continue to suffer today the severe material harm and intergenerational trauma of the crimes inflicted upon them.”

As much as the claim for reparations by the Ovaherero and Nama is directed to and against the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, as a successor government to Germany’s Imperial government that was responsible for the genocide, the Namibian government and the State, as a successor to the State and government of Apartheid South Africa, also and somehow has responsibility and obligations. “The successor State must guarantee that victims of serious human rights violations and their families receive certain forms of reparation for the harm suffered,” note the Rapporteurs. There is and cannot be any denial in Namibia that currently there are victims of genocide, who are the Ovaherero and Nama descendants of the Ovaherero and Nama survivors of genocide. Including those in the Diaspora of neighbouring Botswana and South Africa. To whom Namibia also equally owns responsibility and obligation as much. To the same extent that she owes her own citizens of Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama descent. Not least tho
se who have been already repatriated and been from Botswana. Many who, years after, still find themselves in repatriation centres in Gam in the Tsumkwe Constituency of the Otjozondjupa region, and in Eiseb in the Otjombinde Constituency of the region of Omaheke.

While these repatriates still find themselves in unenviable conditions, another repatriation process is imminent for only more of them again to be equally dumped in Namibia’s communal hinterland, never to benefit from the government’s resettlement programme. Victims of genocide that they are and thus ordinarily should be a priority for resettlement.

“The question at hand is not a demand for assistance but rather, and clearly so, a demand for accountability and reparation for the harm suffered by affected communities,” the Rapporteurs underline, adding that “only full reparation that includes acknowledgement, apology, restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and guarantees of non-recurrence, can effectively remedy past wounds”.

Certainly the ball cannot but now squarely be in the court of both the Namibian government, and its German’s counterpart, how they respond to the UN, on these pertinent concerns of the descendants. Surprisingly the Rapporteurs make no mention of genocide descendants in the Diaspora of especially Botswana and South Africa. Perhaps because the governments of both countries have never raised the issue despite the descendants having raised it, even with their government in Gaborone, for those in Botswana. Not only these but both these descendants have also very much been an integral part of the demand for reparations.

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