Germany sued over early 20th century Namibia genocide


Namibian tribes feel vindicated after New York Judge Laura Taylor Swain set the date for a hearing in their class-action suit against Germany for atrocities committed at the turn of the 20th century. 

Representatives for the Nama and Herero tribes in Namibia filed a class-action suit in the United States in January, requesting compensation for "incalculable damages" and demanding inclusion in negotiations between the two Germany and Namibia, which the tribes have been excluded from and which the charge violates a United Nations declaration on indigenous people. 

The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute which makes provision for non-United States citizens to make claims in a US federal court for international law violations. 

The suit was filed on behalf of the descendents of the victims of one of the darkest periods in African colonial history, which saw tens of thousands of Herero and Nama people killed in Namibia by Germans between 1904 and 1908. Members of the Herero tribes revolted against German settlers claiming land, cattle and other means of subsistence from locals, killing 123 German civilians in January 1904.

German response was swift and strong, and in the bloody 1904 Battle of Waterberg, German troops chased around 80 000 Herero men, women and children who fled across the Kalahari Desert to Botswana. Herero survivors who reached Botswana only numbered 15 000. In October 1904, General Lotha von Trotha, colonial military commander, issued a command that the Herero be exterminated. 

The smaller Nama faced a similar fate when they rebelled against the Germans in the conflict, with around 10 000 killed. 

The lawsuit has also made claims land taken by German settlers without compensation with the full consent of colonial authorities, as well as claims that authorities ignored cases of settlers forcing local tribes people into labour and raping Herero and Nama women and girls. 

In addition to this, the claim charges the use of concentration camps where tribes people had scientific experiments performed on them, a precursor to the major genocides that occurred later in the 20th century. 

Ida Hoffmann, 69, a member of the Namibian Parliament and representative for the Nama called the announcement of the hearing "the greatest success we have achieved. This is the sign that we are the winners."

The German government has never officially acknowledged the genocide and has thus far refused to pay direct compensations, saying that the development aid it has provided to Namibia since its independence from South Africa has been more than 'generous'.

The hearing is scheduled to begin in New York on July 21.