Germany rules out financial reparations for genocide

24 May 2021 | International

PHILIP OLTERMANN

BERLIN

Germany has categorically ruled out financial reparations forming part of a planned formal apology to Namibia for colonial atrocities at the start of the 20th century, amid fears such payments could set a legal precedent for further claims.

Angela Merkel’s government has since 2014 negotiated with Namibia to “heal the wounds” of what historians call the first genocide of the 20th century, when between 1904 and 1908 tens of thousands of indigenous people were shot, starved, and tortured to death by German troops as they put down the rebellious Herero and Nama tribes in what is now Namibia.

The talks are nearing completion, with broadcaster Deutschlandfunk reporting last week on plans for the president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to ask for forgiveness for the genocide in front of the Namibian parliament.

As part of the reconciliation agreement, which has been submitted to both governments, Germany is also to make additional aid payments towards infrastructure, healthcare and job-training programmes in areas of Namibia populated by the descendants of the Herero and Nama tribes.

But in an internal progress report on the negotiations, circulated to German parliamentarians last week and seen by the Guardian, the foreign office strains to clarify that such payments do not amount to reparations in the legal definition of the word.

“Reparations or individual compensations are not subject of the negotiations,” the report says. “After 100 years they would be unprecedented. The definition of injustice set up by the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide does not apply retrospectively and cannot be the basis for financial claims.”

The German government’s official line is that formal claims for reparations relating to the Second World War were settled with the two-plus-four treaty of 1990. Outstanding loan debts relating to First World War reparations were settled in 2010.

Yet countries such as Greece and Poland, which were not part of the 1990 agreement, have since repeatedly reiterated their demands to be compensated for economic and human losses sustained at the hands of German forces in the first half of the 20th century.

The Greek government of the conservative prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, most recently repeated its wish for negotiations relating to damages worth €289bn on the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Greece this April.

Many of the descendants of the Herero and Nama victims continue to reject structural aid and demand direct reparations from Germany. In a joint statement issued last week, the Ovaherero Traditional Authorities and Nama Traditional Leaders Association called the reconciliation agreement a “public relations coup by Germany and an act of betrayal by the Namibian government”.

The Namibian envoy to the negotiations, Zed Ngavirue, has in recent weeks urged his side to settle on a deal, warning that “a window of opportunity” was closing because a rising far-right Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) could be part of the next German government after elections in September.

The AfD is stable on about 11% of the vote in latest polls and stands no realistic chance of forming the next government since other parties have ruled out entering a coalition with the far right.

The exact sums of the aid contributions outlined in the reconciliation agreement remain confidential. Last August the Namibian government reportedly turned down a proposal of €10m, though the German government later rejected those claims. The Guardian

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