Namibian tribes sue Berlin over genocide
Herero prisoners of war in 1904. Source: Wikimedia
Germany is facing a court case in the US from members of two Namibian tribes and demands for reparations for its neglected African genocide, seen as a precursor for the Holocaust during the Second World War.
Herero and Nama tribal members have filed a class action to demand reparations for the extermination of around 110,000 of their kinsfolk between 1904 and 1908.
The apparent attempted extermination of Namibia’s Herero and Nama peoples by Germany’s colonial forces is widely regarded as the first 20th-century genocide.
Last summer Berlin announced that it would finally recognise the killings as genocide, which prompted talks with the Windhoek government over a joint declaration.
The Herero and Nama communities filed the class action in New York “on behalf of all Herero and Nama worldwide, seeking reparations and compensation for the genocide”.
The plaintiffs include Herero chief Vekuii Rukoro and Nama leader David Frederick who also want a seat at the governmental talks. Rukoro, 62, says if Germany does not allow representatives at the talks he will launch a public-relations and diplomatic “offensive”, and lobby to have Germany labelled a war criminal and pariah state.
Up to 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama are estimated to have been slaughtered in response to a 1904 uprising against the colonialists.
Tens of thousands of civilians were forced into the Namibian desert to die of starvation, while the Germans systematically poisoned their water sources.
Others were sent to concentration camps where they died of disease and abuse. Many victims were beheaded, and thousands of skulls sent to Germany for scientific experiments to look for signs of supposed inferiority.
Germany’s military chief in the colony, General Lothar von Trotha, wrote in 1904 of the Herero: “I believe that the nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this is not possible by tactical measures, expelled from the country.”
His communiqué ordered: “Any Herero found within the German border, with or without a rifle, with or without cattle, is to be shot. I do not accept women or children either: drive them back to their people or shoot them.”
But Germany is refusing to offer any reparations, while saying it will pay development aid to Namibia.
Ruprecht Polenz, Germany’s envoy dealing with issue, said he was “not surprised” by the legal action.
“From the German government’s point of view, the question of how to deal with the crimes that were committed between 1904 and 1908 is a political and moral question, but not a legal one,” he told Deutsche Welle. “We are negotiating with the Namibian government about the political and moral consequences.”