In Brief

Germany’s other genocide: Namibians sue over colonial slaughter

Berlin returns remains of massacred indigenous people but descendants still waiting for apology

Berlin has returned the remains of indigenous Namibian people slaughtered during Germany’s brutal occupation of the southwest African nation a century ago.

Thousands of people from the Herero and Nama ethnic groups were killed, tortured or raped during Germany’s occupation of the region, then known as German South West Africa, between 1904 and 1907 - atrocities that have been described as the “20th century genocide the West forgot”.

The human remains had been stored in hospitals, museums and universities for decades, after being used for discredited “scientific” experiments that purported to prove the racial superiority of white Europeans, reports news site France 24.

The skulls and bones were returned to a Namibian government delegation during a church ceremony in Berlin on Wednesday.

However, many Namibians - including public officials and politicians - claim that Germany has failed to adequately recognise or take responsibility for the killings. Germany has never formally admitted claims of genocide.

In 2016, “Germany said it was prepared to apologise in principle but it is still negotiating with the Namibian government over the form of the apology and how to deal with the legacy of the genocide”, says the BBC.

Vekuii Rukoro, a Namibian lawyer, politician and Herero representative, had strong words for the government of Angela Merkel at the Berlin ceremony. 

“Genocide. That’s what we call it back home. That’s what German opposition MPs are calling it, that’s what the German public is calling it, that is what the world opinion is calling it,” Rukoro said. 

“The only people - who after five years of painstaking negotiations - are unable to come to the same conclusion and agreement are the German and the Namibian government. Something is wrong with our two governments.”

Fellow Namibian representative Manase Zeraek added: “We are all united in one thing: we are all demanding that Germany must accept that it committed genocide in one country.

“We are in agreement that they must apologise and that they must pay reparations.”

Germany has refused to pay any form of reparation to date, reports Deutsche Welle. “The German government considers that the use of the term ‘genocide’ does not entail any legal obligation to reparations but rather political and moral obligations to heal the wounds. We’re sticking to that position,” Ruprecht Polenz, Germany’s negotiator in the Namibia talks, told the German newspaper in 2016.

Descendants of the victims filed a US federal lawsuit against Germany in 2017 under the Alien Tort Statute, “an unusual law that has allowed foreigners to sue perpetrators of human rights violations”, reports Washington DC-based news site NPR. The case is ongoing.

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