Representatives of two indigenous groups in Namibia, the Herero and Nama peoples, have filed a class-action lawsuit against Germany in New York. They are seeking reparations for what former colonial power Germany acknowledges was genocide committed by German colonial troops in the early 1900s.
The plaintiffs are seeking reparations and the right to representation at talks between Germany and Namibia. The slaughter took place from roughly 1904 to 1908, when Namibia was a German colony known as South-West Africa, after the Herero and Nama groups rebelled against German rule. Some 100,000 people are believed to have been killed when Germany crushed an uprising, beginning in 1904.

Namibia and Germany have been in talks about a joint declaration on the massacres that Germany recently admitted were genocide, but Herero and Nama descendants have been excluded from the talks.
According to a complaint filed on Thursday with the US district court in Manhattan, Germany has excluded the plaintiffs from talks with Namibia regarding what occurred, and has publicly said any settlement will not include reparations to victims, even if compensation is awarded to Namibia itself.
Unlike with the victims of World War II atrocities, Germany has also refused to pay reparations to victims, saying it pays millions of dollars of development aid to the country instead.
The dispute relates to a period in the late 19th and early 20th Century, when Germany was the colonial power in Namibia, then called South West Africa.
“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 descendants of the victims, for the “incalculable damages” that were caused.
US representatives of the German government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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 paid victims of the Holocaust, which occurred during the second world war.
The plaintiffs on Thursday sued under the Alien Tort Statute, a 1789 US law often invoked in human rights cases.
The US supreme court narrowed the law’s reach in a 2013 decision, Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum Co, saying it was presumed not to cover foreign conduct unless the claims sufficiently “touch and concern” the US.
McCallion said Kiobel and later rulings “leave the door open” for US courts to assert jurisdiction in genocide cases.