BERLIN – Germany officially recognizes as genocide the murder of tens of thousands of people from two ethnic groups in present-day Namibia at the start of the 20th century, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday, a major acknowledgment of the crimes of the time colonial.
Germany asks forgiveness and creates a fund of more than one billion euros to support projects in affected communities.
Successive German governments have denied the country’s responsibility for the killings, in contrast to its sincere and transparent atonement for the Nazi Holocaust that was the cornerstone of the country’s identity after World War II.
The recognition was obtained after six years of negotiations between the governments of Germany and Namibia, which Germany occupied as a colonial power from 1884 to 1915. Between 1904 and 1908, German soldiers killed dozens thousands of Herero and Nama people, who launched the biggest – and finally – rebellion against the occupiers who had taken their land.
In 1985, the United Nations included the murders a report on the genocide, but it was not until Friday that the German government used the same language.
“We will now officially qualify these events for what they are from today’s point of view: genocide,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement. “In recognition of the immeasurable suffering inflicted on the victims, we want to support Namibia and the descendants of the victims with a substantial € 1.1 billion program for reconstruction and development.”
Germany’s announcement came as neighboring France made a high-profile statement to reflect the damage caused by its past in Africa. President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday in Rwanda that France has “the duty to confront history and recognize its share of the suffering it inflicts on the Rwandan people.”
Mr Maas said the German fund, worth the equivalent of about $ 1.35 billion, did not open the way for any “legal claims for compensation”. The fund is expected to make payments over a 30-year period to projects supporting infrastructure, health care and training programs to benefit affected communities.
The Herero and Nama are minorities in a nation that has been ruled since independence by the liberation party, the People’s Organization of South West Africa, known as SWAPO, which is dominated by the Ovambo ethnicity.
The descendants of the tribes have sought damages for the genocide and seizures of property by settlers for years, including by the courts of the United States. In 2019, a Manhattan U.S. District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the tribes seeking compensation.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier intends to visit Namibia this year to officially ask for forgiveness for the killings.
A spokesperson for President Hage Geingob told the Agence France-Presse news agency that “Germany’s acceptance that genocide has been committed is the first step in the right direction.”
But representatives of affected communities, the Ovaherero Traditional Authority and the Nama Traditional Chiefs Association, dismissed the German offer as insufficient and accused Namibian negotiators of giving in to Berlin for political reasons. The Namibian newspaper reported Friday.
Zed Ngavirue, who negotiated the deal on behalf of Namibia, defended the deal as an important political response for the African country, while acknowledging that there would be no way to fully make up for the lives lost.
“We assessed the damage suffered and worked with what we thought was necessary,” he told the Namibian, adding: “We are well aware that the German government would not be able to restore and restore our losses. ”
Growing international awareness of the importance of recognizing these colonial-era crimes exerted pressure that led to recognition on Friday.
In 2016, the German Parliament recognized the murders of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 as genocide. President Biden followed suit last month, to an extent that broke with previous U.S. governments.
German museums also recognized their role in colonial wrongs. They sought to compensate by returning the human remains of the victims Herero and Nama who had been brought to Germany for research aimed at proving the racial superiority of white Europeans. In 2018, a ceremony was held to return the remains of 25 people.
Historians estimate that German soldiers killed up to 75% of the Herero and up to half of the Nama populations during the war from 1904 to 1908, although the exact figures are not known.