New York, United States | AFP | More than a century after a long-hushed genocide took place in Namibia while under German colonial rule, descendants of the victims are getting their day in court in New York for the first time Thursday.
In one of the darkest chapters of African colonial history, tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people were killed from 1904 to 1908.
The two countries have been in talks for the past two years about a joint declaration on the massacres.
While some German officials have acknowledged a genocide occurred, the government has fallen short of an official declaration.
And Berlin repeatedly refused to pay direct reparations, saying that its development aid worth hundreds of millions of euros since Namibia’s independence from South Africa in 1990 was “for the benefit of all Namibians.”
A Foreign Ministry spokesman described the aid as “generous,” saying it includes “record” amounts per individual and points to Germany’s “responsibility.”
German settlers grabbed land, cattle and other means of subsistence from the locals, triggering a Herero revolt on January 12, 1904 in which they killed 123 German civilians.
In the bloody Battle of Waterberg in August 1904, around 80,000 Herero fled with women and children toward Botswana. German troops went after them across what is now known as the Kalahari Desert. Only 15,000 Herero survived.
In October 1904, colonial military commander General Lothar von Trotha ordered that the Herero be exterminated.
The smaller Nama tribe faced a similar fate. Around 10,000 of them were killed as they sought to rebel against the Germans during the conflict.
– Seeking reparations –
The class-action lawsuit filed by the tribes in New York seeks reparations and demands that their representatives be included in negotiations between Germany and Namibia on the issue.
The suit alleges that from 1885 to 1903, about a quarter of Herero and Nama lands — thousands of square miles — was taken without compensation by German settlers with the explicit consent of German colonial authorities.
It also claims that those authorities turned a blind eye to rapes by settlers of Herero and Nama women and girls, and the use of forced labor.
In addition to land and property grabs, there were concentration camps, exterminations and scientific experiments on “specimens” of what the settlers considered to be an inferior race — all in line with major genocides of the 20th century.
Berlin has been tight-lipped about details of the deal being negotiated with Namibia.
The plaintiffs in the US case include Vekuii Rukoro, identified as the paramount chief of the Herero people, David Frederick, chief and chairman of the Nama Traditional Authorities Association, and the non-profit Association of the Ovaherero/Ovambanderu Genocide in the USA, Inc.
They filed in January under the Alien Tort Statute that allows non-US citizens to make claims before US federal court for international law violations.
The two tribes claim that their exclusions from the Namibia-Germany negotiations violates a United Nations declaration on indigenous people.
Judge Laura Taylor Swain is hearing the case. But hours before the hearing, Berlin had yet to name a lawyer for the case, casting uncertainty over the matter.
“Germany could delay the process,” acknowledged the plaintiffs’ lawyer Kenneth McCallion.