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 on 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.”
German settlers grabbed land, cattle and other means of subsistence from the local people, triggering a Herero revolt on Jan. 12, 1904, in which 123 Germans and 65,000 Herero died. Later that year, the colonial military commander Gen Lothar von Trotha ordered that the Herero be exterminated.
The smaller Nama tribe faced a similar fate. About 10,000 of them were killed as they sought to rebel against the Germans during the conflict.
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 of Herero and Nama women and girls by settlers, 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.
The plaintiffs in the U.S. 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 not-for-profit Association of the Ovaherero/Ovambanderu Genocide in the USA, Inc.