It’s Time to Accentuate the 1904-1908 Ovaherero and Nama Genocide

Major general JB Tjivikua

National interest versus global responsibility is a daunting issue that leaders worldwide have had to face through the ages and throughout history. 

In principle, there should always be a balance between national interest and global responsibilities.

While national interest should come first, global consequences cannot be ignored.

National interest means what is best for a nation in terms of its national as well as foreign policies that will help and protect the nation in every way.

Following the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories 57 years ago, 52 countries and three international organisations gathered at The Hague, Netherlands, for the first time for an International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) oral hearing on Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian Territories, on 19 February. This is unprecedented in the history of the United Nations (UN). 

The oral proceedings stem from a December 2022 request by the UN General Assembly for the court to give an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Indeed, the court has the opportunity to address the prolonged occupation by considering Israeli practices and policies that violate international legal prohibitions against racial discrimination.

It is also an opportunity to appraise the legal responsibilities of other countries and the UN in addressing violations of international law arising from illegal occupation. 

Among those participating in the oral proceedings at the ICJ are Namibia, the State of Palestine, South Africa, Belgium, Brazil, the United States, Russia, France, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the African Union.

Israel submitted a written statement and chose not to participate in the oral hearing. 

On 23 February, Namibia – represented by justice minister Yvonne Dausab – delivered an oral statement revolving around the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the permanent nature of Israel’s occupation.

Professor Phoebe Okowa, as a legal counsel, also presented an oral argument on behalf of Namibia.

It is fair to say that Namibia and its people have unequivocally supported the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and statehood. 
What is intriguing is that while Namibia is supporting South Africa’s case at the ICJ, the bones of the victims of the 1904-1908 genocide in our country – the first genocide of the 20th century – forlornly dot the landscape of the Kalahari and the Namib deserts.  

Since a motion on our genocide, apology and reparations was introduced in the Namibian parliament in September 2006, no meaningful remedies are yet in sight to ameliorate conditions for genuine negotiations.

Our government acted with a speed and vigour we have not witnessed before in announcing its participation in support of the ICJ oral hearing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

We are doing this while sadly ‘covering up’ our own festering wounds.

By now Namibia, with the support of the international community, should have created an opportunity to accentuate the 1904-1908 genocide by using the same platform.

While our support for the Palestinian cause has been unwavering, we have not seen a similar intense international campaign or heightened diplomatic initiative by our government to garner support, public opinion and solidarity to gain an internationally supported solution for the 1904-1908 genocide.

The rights of victims of genocide to reparations is not only as an inter-state prerogative or an act of compassion or charity.
There is a moral imperative to seek to amend what has been broken.

Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are recognised worldwide as the most abhorrent of crimes and the perpetrators understood as enemies of all mankind (hostis humani).

It has also long been recognised that the perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable and that institutions, organisations and governments that enabled the abuses should not escape liability. 

International law recognises the obligation to provide reparations for international wrongful acts.

This has been repeatedly reaffirmed in the jurisprudence of national and international courts.

Too often, genocide ends in denial and deceit by the perpetrators and their successors.

Noticeably, Germany has offered to intervene on Israel’s behalf in the case of genocide in Gaza brought by South Africa at the ICJ.


The 1904-1908 genocide in our country, on our land, with the intention of annihilating and destroying “in whole” was pronounced in Germany’s state policies – the extermination order read out on 2 October 1904 and 22 April 1905 against the Ovaherero and Nama people. 

There has yet to be real redress for the emotional pain and wounds inflicted by the genocide. The scars run deep, as does our collective pain.

The descendants of the victims of genocide do not feel their demands have been heard. But until when?

Eventually, in support of our national interest, the International Court of Justice may hold the key to ultimately and fairly addressing the 1904-1908 genocide. 

  • Major general JB Tjivikua (retd) is a descendant of victims of the 1904-1908 genocide.

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