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Namibian tribes sue Germany over genocide

January 6, 2017

The case goes back to an uprising by the Herero and Nama tribes against their colonial overlords - Germany. The first question the US court will likely address is whether or not it has jurisdiction in the case.

Überlebende Herero nach der Flucht durch die Wüste
Image: public domain

Two indigenous tribes from Namibia are suing the German government in a US District Court in Manhattan, seeking reparations for an alleged genocide by their one-time colonial rulers more than a century ago.

The suit was filed by the Herero and Nama people on Thursday, and demands the right "to be included in any negotiation between Germany and Namibia," and that no settlements can be reached without their consent.

"There is no assurance that any of the proposed foreign aid by Germany will actually reach or assist the minority indigenous communities that were directly harmed," the plaintiffs' lawyer, Ken McCallion, said. "There can be no negotiations or settlement about them that is made without them."

The two countries have been in talks about a joint declaration over massacres that occurred between 1904-05, with Berlin already referring to the massacre as a genocide. However, Berlin has steadfastly refused to pay reparations.  

The lawsuit says the plaintiffs are filing the class action suit "on behalf of all Herero and Nama worldwide, seeking reparations and compensation for the genocide" that was perpetrated by the German colonial authorities.

The century-old dispute goes back to the late 19th century and early 20th century when Namibia was a German colony, known as South West Africa.

Vast land seizures

According to the suit, thousands of square miles of land belonging to the two local tribes were seized without compensation by German settlers with the consent of German's colonial authorities. The land seizures occurred between 1885 and 1903, and represented about 25 percent of the lands inhabited by the Herero and Nama tribes.

German stance in Namibia genocide debate

The indigenous people also claim that German authorities looked the other way when it came to rapes by the colonists of the tribal women and girls, as well as the use of forced labor.

The fraught situation erupted in violence in early 1904 when the Herero rose up, followed by the Nama, in an insurrection that was eventually crushed by imperial German troops in what is sometimes called the 20th century's first genocide.

As many as 100,000 Herero and Nama people died in a campaign of annihilation led by German General Lothar von Trotha, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs filed suit under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 US law that is frequently invoked in human rights cases.

bik/kms (Reuters, AFP)