Descendants of the Herero and Nama people from what is now Namibia are suing Germany in the United States over a genocide carried out by German colonial troops in the early 1900s, in which more than 100,000 people were killed.
According to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Germany has excluded the plaintiffs from talks with Namibia on the matter, and has publicly said any settlement will not include reparations to victims’ families, even if compensation is awarded to Namibia itself.
“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 in an email.
“There can be no negotiations or settlement about them that is made without them.”
The proposed class-action lawsuit seeks unspecified sums for thousands of the victims’ descendants for the “incalculable damages” that were caused.
German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said on Friday that Berlin had acknowledged the genocide and that the two governments had been in talks for just under two years about how to describe and deal with Germany’s past criminal actions.
German development aid to Namibia was already at nearly “world record” levels on a per capita basis but the inter-governmental discussions could lead to potential additional payments, he said.
Germany had “good reasons” for not negotiating directly with the Namibian groups involved, Schaefer told a regular government news conference, without elaborating. He said Berlin learned of the lawsuit only through news reports.
The genocide took place from roughly 1904 to 1908, when Namibia was a German colony known as German South-West Africa, after the Herero and Nama groups rebelled against German rule.
According to many published reports, victims were also subjected to harsh conditions in concentration camps, and some had their skulls sent to Germany for scientific experiments.
Some historians view what occurred as the 20th century’s first genocide, and a 1985 United Nations report said the “massacre” of Hereros qualified as a genocide.
Germany has already paid victims of the Holocaust during which the Nazis killed, among others, about six million Jews.
The plaintiffs, including some from New York, on Thursday sued under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 U.S. law often invoked in human rights cases.
They also brought federal common law and New York state law claims.