Wednesday, January 19

Germany recognizes atrocities in colonial-era Namibia as genocide


Correspondent in Berlin

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Germany has admitted for the first time that he committed a «genocide»Against the Herero and Nama peoples in Namibia during the colonial period, between 1904 and 1908, and announced more than 1,100 million euros in development aid to the African country.

“From today’s perspective, we will qualify these events for what they are today: a genocide,” said the Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, in a statement welcoming the conclusion of an agreement with Namibia after more than five years of tough negotiations. “In view of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we apologize to Namibia and the descendants of the victims for the atrocities committed.”

Tens of thousands of Hereros and Namas were killed by German settlers in what many historians have considered the first genocide of the 20th century. In a gesture of “recognition of the immense suffering inflicted on the victims”, Germany will support the “reconstruction and development” of Namibia, which, although from a legal point of view does not constitute compensation, nor does it in any way open the way to a The “legal right to compensation” does take on the character of a gesture of reparation that will be delivered within 30 years and should initially benefit the descendants of these two ethnic groups. «The past cannot be erased. Acknowledging the mistake and asking for forgiveness are, however, an important step to overcome the past and build the future together, “says the head of German diplomacy.

This decision follows the one announced by France barely 24 hours before acknowledging for his part the historical “overwhelming responsibility” in the genocide that the Hutu majority committed against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda in 1994, being president Francois Mitterand. The current Gallic president, Emmanuel Macron, has expressed that recognition personally in a solemn declaration, during a speech delivered before the Genocicide Memorial, in Kigali, while he was on an official visit in Rwanda. He expressed his hope that “those who went through the night can forgive, give us the gift of forgiving us”, although he delimited the role of France by stating: “Responsibility yes; complicity no ».

Racist experiments with skulls

The need for reconciliation with these peoples had led Germany in recent years to carry out various gestures of recognition towards Namibia, such as the delivery of the bones of members of the Herero and Nama tribes in 2019. The remains of bones, especially skulls of the victims were sent to Germany after the massacre for racist scientific experiments. The doctor Eugene Fischer, whose writings influenced Adolf Hitler, tried to demonstrate with studies based on these bones the superiority of the white race.

Along the same lines of reviewing the errors during the colonial period, Germany returned to Nigeria last April the collection of the Bronzes of Benin, a “historical milestone in the historical and moral responsibility of bringing to light and addressing the Germany’s colonial past ”, according to the Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters.

A Namibian delegation pays tribute to the victims of the genocide during a ceremony in Berlin in 2018 in which human skulls are exposed, on the occasion of the return of mortal remains by Germany
A Namibian delegation pays tribute to the victims of the genocide during a ceremony in Berlin in 2018 in which human skulls are exposed, on the occasion of the return of mortal remains by Germany – Efe

As for Namibia, Germany has transferred millions of euros in development aid to the African country since its independence in 1990, but until now it had avoided official recognition of the crimes against these tribes, who currently represent around 7% of the population, compared to 40% at the beginning of the 20th century. The Herero, in defense of their lands and livestock, rose up against the German settlers in 1904 and left a hundred dead among them. Sent to suppress the uprising, the German general Lothar von Trotha ordered their annihilation. The Namas rebelled a year later and suffered the same fate.

A total of at least 60,000 Hereros and around 10,000 Namas were killed between 1904 and 1908. German colonial forces used techniques now recognized as genocidal such as mass murder or exile in the desert, where thousands of people died of thirst, in addition to concentration camps such as the infamous Hai Island.

It remains to be defined what form development aid will take, the activist’s main concern Laidlaw Periganda. The old tribal lands were divided and turned into private farms that were handed over to German settlers. Most of the Herero and Nama live in small overcrowded areas of communal lands that were later assigned to them, in informal settlements or shanty towns. They demand the return of the lands and Germany does not have jurisdiction to make decisions in this regard, but depends on the government of Namibia.

“Germany must buy back our ancestral land from the current owners and return it to the rightful heirs,” asks Periganda, who also hopes that Germany will finance an agrarian reform program that will allow the farms of Namibian farmers from families of German origin, who today own about 70% of the country’s agricultural land, can be bought and distributed among the new generations of the Herero and Nama.

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