A Meeting in Namibia and Botswana

I travelled from New York to Windhoek, Namibia on Wednesday, March 27th at the invitation of Paramount Chief Rukoro of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) and Chief Isaack of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (“NTLA”). I was accompanied by my wife, Susan, and my youngest son, Foard. We were warmly greeted at the Hosea Kutako International Airport by a large delegation of Nama leaders, and by a Herero delegation from the OTA, led by Bob Kandetu, the OTA’s Chief-of-Staff and a well-known Namibian journalist and writer.

We first travelled to Swakopmund to attend a three-day international law conference there on the 1904-1908 Genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama by German imperial forces and “The Case for Restorative Justice.” The sponsors for the conference included the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation (OGF), and the Nama Genocide Technical Committee (NGTC). The Conference had an overflow crowd for most of the sessions, and was well attended by delegations of academics, experts, leaders and representatives of the Herero and Nama communities from Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, the UK, Canada, Germany and the U.S.

Among the topics discussed were the continuing impact on Namibian society caused by the German colonial past, including the fact that Herero and Nama families and communities that had their land, cattle and other properties expropriated by the Germans during the 1904 to 1908 period and thereafter continue to suffer inter- generational poverty. Since much of the Herero and Nama wealth and well-being depended on their ownership and use of their rich grazing lands for their cattle and other livestock, they continue to suffer from these losses still they have not had those lands and other property restored to them and have still not received any just compensation for these expropriations and unlawful takings. Based upon what we saw during our travels in Namibia, much of the wealth in the country still depends on land and grazing rights, such as the vast areas in eastern Namibia around Gobabis, which proudly declares itself to be “cattle country.”

It became clear during the discussions at the Swakopmund conference that without significant land reform or a settlement with Germany providing substantial funds for the Herero and Nama communities to purchase grazing lands and purchase cattle and other livestock, the cycle of poverty that has held many Herero and Nama communities in its iron grip for generations cannot be broken.

During the Swakopmund conference, Paramount Chief Rukoro and Chief Isaack addressed a packed hall on their efforts on behalf of the Herero and Nama people to seek restorative justice from Germany for the losses that their communities suffered as a result of the genocide and loss of their lands and property without compensation or restitution. They and the other Herero and Nama leaders and technical advisors at the Conference emphasized that the Herero and Nama communities of Namibia have unanimously chosen them as their lawful representatives, as well as the Herero and Nama communities in Botswana, South Africa, the U.K. Canada and the U.S., which are where all the significant communities of the Herero and Nama diaspora are located. Moreover, it was emphasized by the Herero and Nama leadership, as well as the numerous members of those communities who were attending the Conference, that the government of Namibia could not possibly represent the interests of the Herero and Nama communities in Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere since they are not Namibian citizens, and the Namibian government has not even offered them dual citizenship. Their families fled for their lives during the 1904-1908 genocide, seeking protection in Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere, and they have never been offered the return of their stolen lands, cattle or other property. Consequently, they have no incentive or reason to return to what is now Namibia, where they would be little more than poor, powerless and landless refugees. They have, therefore, unanimously decided, on an individual and family basis, and through their own community and regional chiefs, that P.C. Rukoro (in the case of the Herero) and Chief Isaack (in the case of the Nama) are their chosen and lawful representatives for, among other things, all matters relating to negotiations and settlement of their genocide claims against Germany.

At the Conference, Paramount Chief Rukoro recounted a moving personal family history regarding its losses suffered during the German colonial period, which is apparently typical of many Herero and Nama families. His family’s ancestral lands remain today under the ownership of the descendants of the Germans who originally expropriated their property without compensation. Although the current German owner of the property is kind enough to let the Rukoro family members visit their ancestors’ gravesites on the property, the harsh reality is that 115 years after the expropriation of their lands, Herero and Nama families have never received any compensation for their property or livestock losses, and there is no indication that the current “negotiations” between Germany and the Namibian government will result in any restitution or compensation to these Herero and Nama families and communities.

In fact, Germany has made it clear that it will not make any restitution as part of a “settlement” with the Namibian government. Since when, it may be asked, does a criminal have the right to dictate the terms of his or her sentence? No criminal ever wants to pay a significant price, either in jail time or in restitution to the victims of the crime. And yet the Namibian government seems to be acquiescing to Germany’s flawed “no restitution” argument, as if there can somehow be a final peace and final settlement of these issues without a true plan for restorative justice, which would require the participation of the Herero and Nama acknowledged leadership in the settlement negotiations. What is the Namibian government afraid of? Why is it of no apparent importance to them that the Herero and Nama communities in both Namibia and worldwide will view any “settlement” entered into without the participation of their chosen leaders as an illegitimate sham? Nor have the terms of the “imminent” settlement with Germany ever been publicly disclosed so that the communities that were targeted for genocide – the Herero and the Nama – can even comment on them before the government tries to sign away their rights? These were some of the significant and timely questions and considerations discussed at the Conference.

During the Swakopmund Conference, I also participated – along with my colleague Michael Lockman — in a panel discussion on the status of the U.S. federal court litigation in New York. Although the federal district court recently granted Germany’s motion to dismiss, most of the court’s written decision was a landmark victory for the Herero and Nama plaintiffs in that, for the first time, a court recognized that the mass killings, attempted extermination of the Herero and Nama and expropriation of their property by Germany during the 1904 to 1908 period was, in fact, a violation of existing international law both now and at the time, which prohibited wars of annihilation and extermination. The U.S. federal court’s written decision also contained an acknowledgment that the Herero and Nama peoples have never been justly compensated for the unlawful taking of their property. In so ruling, the court rejected Germany’s shameful argument that its horrific actions did not violate international law at the time, and its suggestion that the Herero and Nama were not “civilized” peoples, such as Europeans, who could claim the protection of international law.

The court found, in essence, that although the term “genocide” was not widely used prior to the end of World War II, the attempt to exterminate a people based upon their race, color or ethnic identity was prohibited during this 1904 to 1908 time period, and that Germany violated this established international law at the time by attempting to exterminate both the Herero and Nama peoples, and in substantially succeeding in that goal. The court decision also acknowledged that Hereroland and Namaqualand were highly developed tribal entities at the time, and that Germany accepted these sovereign states as independent political and legal entities by entering into treaties with them, and thus acknowledging their sovereign rights. Germany, of course, broke these treaties by, among other things, stealing land directly from the Namas and Hereros through deceit, fraud and trickery, and later by force, without compensation.

The U.S. federal district court also accepted plaintiffs’ argument that the monies obtained by the Germans through the confiscation and sale of the Herero and Nama expropriated properties went into the German treasury and then became part of the available funds for Germany to buy buildings and property in New York, which it still owns. In addition, the court also acknowledged plaintiffs’ evidence establishing that Germany benefitted financially from the sale of the human skulls and bones of the genocide victims, which were transported to Germany in crates and then displayed or sold to various museums. Some of these skulls were sold to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, where they remain today.

It was further discussed at the Swakopmund conference that, although the district court found that plaintiffs had not met the technical requirements for exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) that would give the U.S. courts jurisdiction over another sovereign state, such as Germany, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have already appealed the lower court’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We further explained that in this appeal to a three-judge appellate panel, we had identified 17 clear- cut errors in the court’s decision that we belief are the basis for a reversal of the lower court’s decision. This appeal has been put on an expedited schedule, in recognition of the importance of the case.

While in Swakopmund, we also participated in the annual remembrance walk there by members of the Herero and Nama communities to the burial ground for victims of the 1904-1908 Genocide. We visited the site of the Concentration Camp and Mass Grave Memorial of the Herero and Nama victims who died there. At the closing ceremonies of the Conference, Paramount Chief Rukoro honored the legal team by giving Michael Lockman and I Herero names in recognition for the legal work that we have been doing on behalf of the Herero communities. We were very moved and honored by this gesture of confidence in us by the Herero leadership and community. My Herero name is now “Nokokure.” We were also both given walking sticks inscribed with our Herero names, which was a very moving experience for me and my family, especially since we have established some close collegial bonds of friendships in Namibia and the U.S. with P.C. Rukoro, members of the OTA staff, as well as leaders of the Ovaherero community in New York and elsewhere in the U.S.

We then travelled back to Windhoek and then down to Keetmanshoop and Luderitz, where we were warmly welcomed by Nama Chief Isaack, Chief Kooper and other leaders and members of the NTLA and the Nama communities. The meeting halls we went to were packed with Nama, who welcomed the opportunity to share with us the terrible suffering that their families experienced during the genocide. They also honored my son and I with traditional colorful Nama hats, and they very generously gave my wife a traditional Nama shawl. We were all very moved by their generosity.

We visited the notorious concentration camp at Shark Island, near Luderitz, where we were surprised to see that there were no plaques or historical markers explaining that this was the concentration camp and extermination camp for Nama and Herero prisoners during the 1904 to 1908 period, and that after they died and were worked to death by the German authorities, many of their heads of the victims were severed, boiled and the Nama and Herero women were forced to cut off the remaining skin from the skulls so that they could be shipped back to Germany and sold as part of a profitable “bone trade” by the Germans. The Germans also performed pseudo-scientific experiments on the dead Herero and Nama victims in an attempt to “prove” that the white and Germanic races were superior to black Africans. The bodies of the victims were then thrown into the sea, where they were eaten by the many sharks in the area. There is a monument there to Chief Fredericks of the Nama, who was interned and died there, along with hundreds of his family members and Nama followers. However, there is no other historical plaque or other information provided at Shark Island telling the story of how it was used by the Germans as a concentration camp as part of its campaign of genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples.

We were also disturbed to see that this sacred ground was being managed by the Namibian government authorities as a campsite for tourists, and that the most prominent memorial at Shark Island is to German soldiers and to Luderitz himself, who was one of the chief architects of German colonialism in South West Africa. None of the German soldiers buried there now and who are honored with a memorial died (to the best of my knowledge) at Shark Island. Rather, they were active participants in the 1904-1908 genocide, and shared responsibility with their German government in carrying out the extermination orders clearly in violation of international law. Along with General von Trotha, who issued the extermination order, these soldiers may well have been war criminals for carrying out this extermination plan. When these soldiers died, they were buried elsewhere, not at Shark Island, and then their remains were then exhumed and re- buried at Shark Island as part of a plan to honor the reprehensible and genocidal actions of the German military during this period. This is as shameful and shocking as if monuments to the Nazi soldiers who murdered thousands and millions of Jews at the death camps such as Auschwitz were erected at those concentration camps, rather than honoring the memories of the victims of the genocide.

In our opinion, Shark Island and the locations of the other concentrations camps in Swakopmund and elsewhere where Herero and Nama were worked to death and slaughtered should be both national and world historical sites in memory of the 1904- 1908 genocide and a remembrance by all Namibians and all Africans to the courageous resistance of the Herero and Nama peoples to German colonialism and attempts to subjugate the African peoples. This anti-colonial resistance was initially successful, where Herero and Nama warriors with little more than spears and their own courage defeated a well-armed German military force. It was only when the Germans retreated to fortified position and called for help from a large German expeditionary force that was sent to support them that Germany was able to defeat the Herero and Nama forces. Germany felt humiliated by having been initially defeated by native Herero forces, and retaliated by issuing an extermination order against the Herero on October 2, 1904, and then another one in 1905 against the Nama.

We actually visited the site at Ozumbu Zovindimba (near Otjinene) where German General Lothar von Trotha issued his written extermination order against the Herero, and the “hanging tree” nearby where German troops hung captured Herero unarmed men, women and children who were trying to flee eastward into Botswana. The metal hanging nooses are still on the dying tree 115 years later, but there is no memorial plaque or other historical marker explaining the importance of what happened there. There are also burial puts there near wells and watering holes that the Germans poisoned, and where the Herero and Nama died. Their bones are still lying in these unmarked pits, unprotected from the dogs and jackals that roam the area and feed on the unprotected remains of the bones of the dead.

The historical significance of this place cannot be overestimated, since this was the first (and last time) in history that there was a written extermination order of an entire peoples. Not even the Nazis, in their zeal to exterminate the Jewish people, ever put their plans into writing. And yet there is not one government plaque at the site commemorating this terrible and historically significant event. It is also my understanding that not one Namibian government representative has ever attended one of the annual October 2nd remembrance events at this sacred site organized by the Herero and Nama leadership. I, therefore, cannot understand why the Namibian government thinks that it can speak for the Herero and Nama peoples in their negotiations with Germany, when it cannot even bring itself to send a representative to such important historical remembrance events. I also have come to understand why the Herero and Nama peoples are skeptical of the Namibian government’s promises to protect their interests in any settlement, when they have seen very little if any of the German foreign aid money trickle down to their communities over these many years. Many – if not most – of the Herero and Nama communities we visited consist primarily of shacks with no water, sewer or electricity, as far as I can tell. There are no power lines to these communities, and their main roads are mostly dirt roads riddled with potholes. It seemed to me as if these communities had been lost in time, forgotten by their own government.

We also visited Okahandja, which is a sacred place to the Ovaherero, and we visited and prayed with a large group of Herero and Nama at the grave sites of the fallen Paramount Chiefs of the Herero who are buried there, and who had chosen to be buried next to Nama Chief Afrikaner, as a demonstration of the solidarity and friendship between the Herero and Nama peoples as joint victims of the genocide. During a ceremony there, my family and I received a lovely gift of traditional Herero pottery, which is used for storing milk and churning it into buttermilk. I am not sure we will actually use it for its originally intended purpose, but the pottery items are clearly works of arts that we will proudly display in our home upon our return to New York.

While entering Botswana, we had a bit of a scare when the Botswana immigration officer told us that we needed our son’s birth certificate, since he is under 16. We had not been previously told about this when we had checked the U.S. State Dept. on what papers we needed to travel to Botswana. However, when they saw that my son is a virtual xerox copy or duplicate of me (only much younger) and that he bears the same name as me (I am “Sr.” and he is “Jr.”) we were permitted to enter Botswana without further problem. Just across the border, at Charles Hill, we were greeted by a huge crowd of both Herero and Nama residents of Botswana, with the women attired in their colorful red dresses and distinctive hat, and many of the men wearing traditional Herero military-style uniforms. Young members of the local Herero “commando” unit marched for us and gave us a sample of their traditional Herero war cries, which sent an involuntary shiver down my spine even though we were clearly on the same side and they were honoring our visit. I imagined how the German soldiers must have felt when they heard the same war cries in the initial battles where the Herero warriors prevailed, despite the overwhelming German superiority in equipment and firepower.

When the festivities at Charles Hill in Botswana moved indoors into a packed hall, some of the colorfully-dressed Herero women took my wife aside, and shortly thereafter, she re-appeared wearing a yellow Herero gown and hat, which she greatly appreciated and made her look even more lovely than usual. She looked like a true Herero woman, only with blond hair. After the speeches in the hall by the assembled Herero chiefs of Botswana, and by myself, the entire crowd was invited to a traditional outdoor after-dark gathering around a huge bonfire. A huge dinner was served, with ample portions of beef and lamb, which is a staple of all Herero meals at special occasions. Songs were sung and stories were told around the “circle of fire,” and after several hours, when the embers of the fire began to die out, we reluctantly left for a good sleep in a room provided by the local Herero chief.

On Friday, April 5th, our final full-day in Namibia, we attended a large and enthusiastic gathering of Herero at Katutura Township, near Windhoek. A local Herero commando group gave an enthusiastic display of their skills, and both I and Paramount Chief Rukoro addressed the gathering, telling them about the Conference, the New York case and our travelling experiences over the past two weeks in both Namibia and Botswana. My son received a colorful red Herero hat and shirt, and I received a statute of a horse, which is a traditional Herero symbol of their attachment to the land. Members of the Herero delegation that accompanied us from the U.S. to Namibia — Dr. Ngondi A. Kamatuka of Kansas University, Barnabas Veraa Katuua, a noted architect from New York, and Vepuka Kauari, Director of Nursing at New York Presbyterian Hospital — were also honored with very special Herero lapel pins. The Namibian Broadcasting Corp. (NBC) covered the event, and earlier in the day I had a taped interview at the NBC studio in Windhoek.

All in all, our entire trip to Namibia was breathtaking, exciting and memorable, which my family and I will always cherish.

THE GENOCIDE OF THE CRIMEAN TATARS FROM 1944 TO THE PRESENT

The Crimean Tatars were subjected to an intentional campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing in 1944, when Stalin and the Soviet leadership ordered the forcible deportation of the Crimean Tatars from Crimea. Soviet propaganda sought to justify this mass deportation as a form of collective punishment for collaborating with the Nazi occupation regime in during 1942–1943. Most scholars and commentators, however, agree that the true aim of the Soviet government was the ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars. This constituted the continuation of a policy practiced earlier in the Caucasus, whereby ethnic groups were selected to be deported and then charges of “treason” were fabricated.

Soviet motivations for the elimination of the Crimean Tatars included the strategic location of Crimea next to the Black Sea and close to Turkey. Another motivation was their close historical and cultural ties with Turkey. Since the Soviet Union had a long-term plan to annex of the Ardahan and Karsprovinces of Turkey, and to demand naval bases at the Turkish Straits, the deportation of the Crimean Tatars took place in preparation for a possible future Soviet-Turkish conflict.

At least 238,500 people were deported, mostly to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. This included the entire ethnic Crimean Tatar population. A large number of deportees (more than 100,000 according to a 1960s survey by Crimean Tatar activists) died from starvation or disease as a direct result of deportation. This was a clear-cut case of genocide and “ethnic cleansing.”

Prior to the Stalinist repression, the Crimean Tatars had long been recognized as the indigenous people of the Crimean Peninsula, and the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Crimean ASSR) was established as an integral part of the Soviet Union. Under this administration, Crimean Tatars enjoyed cultural autonomy and the promotion of their culture, and the Crimean Tatar language had co-official language status along with Russian. Crimean Tatar cultural activities flourished, including establishment of cultural institutions, museums, libraries and theaters.

This “golden age” of Crimean Tatar culture and political autonomy ended when Stalin and the other Soviet leaders embarked on a brutal and intentional campaign to wipe out the Tatar people from the Crimean Peninsula. The Soviet leadership ordered the banishment of the Crimean Tatars to the Uzbek SSR. The operation was to be completed before June 1, 1944, and all property left behind would be confiscated by state authorities.

The deportation began on May 18, 1944 in all Crimean-inhabited localities. The forced deportees were given only 30 minutes to gather personal belongings, after which they were loaded onto cattle trains and moved out of Crimea. The deportees were brought to central gathering stations in Simferopol and Bakhchysarai, and after a short waiting period, loaded on trains. At the same time, most of the Crimean Tatar men who were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilized and sent into forced labor camps in Siberia and in the Ural mountain region.

According to eyewitness accounts, the Russian NKVD officials forgot to deport the Crimean Tatars in the fishing villages of the Arabat Spit. On July 19, 1944, when Soviet authorities learned about these villages, orders were issued that no Crimean Tatar should be left alive within 24 hours. Following this, all inhabitants of these villages were locked up in an old and big boat, which sailed to the deepest part of the Azov Sea and was then sunk. Soviet soldiers waited in a nearby ship with machine guns.

The train journey of the deportees to the destinations was carried out under harsh conditions and resulted in a large number of deaths. According to official Soviet data, 7,889 people, amounting to approximately 5% of the Crimean Tatar population was presumed dead during the deportation, but in all probability, these estimates were grossly understated. The deportation was carried out in sealed box cars, and thousands of deportees died because of thirst. The cars were called “crematoria on wheels” by Crimean Tatars. The doors and windows were tightly bolted to prevent the entry of fresh air, there was no medical care and little food. This led to the deaths of especially elderly people and children, who could not withstand the suffocating conditions and the lack of food. Grigorii Burlitskii, a NKVD officer overseeing the deportation who later defected, reported that “they were packed into wagons like sardines, the wagons were locked and sealed and put under the guard of military detachments”. According to testimonies, the doors of the cars were only opened upon arrival to the Kazakh steppe, where the dead were dumped along the railway track, with the deportees not given the time to bury them.

The deportation was poorly planned and executed. Local authorities in the destination areas were not properly informed about the scale of the matter and did not receive enough resources to accommodate the deportees. The lack of accommodation and food, the failure to provide proper clothing to help the deportees to adapt to new climatic conditions and the rapid spread of diseases further decimated the Crimean Tatar people during the first years of exile.

Upon their arrival in Central Asia, Crimean Tatars were forced to live in special settlement camps, surrounded by barbed wire. Leaving the camps was punished by five years of hard forced labor. Many Crimean Tatars were also made to work in the large-scale projects conducted by the GULAG system. In these forced labor camps, deportees were assigned the heaviest tasks available and awoken before dawn for 12-hour workdays.

In Uzbekistan, Stalin ordered the settlement of Crimean Tatars in kolkhozes (collective farms), sovkhozes (state-owned farms) and settlements around factories for industrial and agricultural production. The deportees partially provided the required workforce for the industrial development of the area. Regardless of their former profession and skills, Crimean Tatars were forced to do heavy labor. Their places of residence consisted of barracks, makeshift shelters, parts of factories and communal housing.

Crimean Tatar activists carried out a census in all the scattered Tatar communities in the middle of the 1960s. The results of this inquiry show that 109,956 (46.2%) Crimean Tatars of the 238,500 deportees died between July 1, 1944 and January 1, 1947 due to starvation and disease.

The Soviet government also efficiently destroyed all remaining traces of Tatar culture.  This included the destruction of Tatar monuments and burning of Tatar manuscripts and books. Tatar mosques were converted into movie theaters and warehouses; gravestones of Tatars were used as building material. Exiled Crimean Tatars were banned from speaking of Crimea, and official Soviet texts, including the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, erased all references to them. When applying for internal passports, “Crimean Tatar” was not accepted as an existing ethnic group and those that designated themselves as “Crimean Tatars” were automatically denied passports.

Soviet authorities also ordered the renaming of all Tatar place names (including mountains and rivers), and a decree of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet Presidium on December 14, 1944 required the renaming of all districts and district centers to Russian-language names. In total, more than 1389 Crimean Tatar towns and villages were renamed.

The Soviet propaganda machine worked hard to hide the true nature of the deportation from the domestic and international media by falsely claiming that it was “voluntary”. The deportations were referred to as “resettlement.” Crimean Tatars were depicted as “bandits” and “thieves,” and were accused of being Nazi agents.

On April 28, 1956, by the decree of the Supreme Soviet Presidium of the USSR, the Crimean Tatars were released from special settlement, accompanied by a restoration of their civil rights. In the same year, the Crimean Tatars started a petition to allow their repatriation to Crimea. They held mass protests in October 1966, but these were violently suppressed by the Soviet military. On June 21, 1967, after a meeting between representatives of the Soviet government and a Crimean Tatar delegation, prompt rehabilitation of Crimean Tatars was promised, but never fulfilled. In August and September 1967, thousands of Crimean Tatars took to the streets to protest in Tashkent.

A decree of the Supreme Soviet Presidium was issued on September 5, 1967 exonerating the Crimean Tatars, but the Soviet government did nothing to facilitate their resettlement back to Crimea, or to make reparations for the loss of lives and confiscated property. In 1968, a token 300 families were allowed to return, but this was only for propaganda purposes. Crimean Tatars, led by the Crimean Tatar National Movement Organization, were not allowed to return to Crimea from exile until the beginning of the Perestroika in the mid-1980s.

The Crimean Tatars began repatriating on a massive scale beginning in the late 1980s and continuing into the early 1990s. The population of Crimean Tatars in Crimea rapidly reached 250,000 and leveled off at about 270,000. There are believed to be between 30,000 and 100,000 remaining in exile in Central Asia.

Finally, in November 1989, after the end of the Cold War, the Soviet government acknowledged responsibility for this clear violation of international law. In November 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR recognized the deportation as a crime against humanity of the highest degree. On April 21, 2014, following the annexation of Crimea by Russia, President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed a decree that “rehabilitated” Crimean Tatars and other ethnicities who suffered from Stalinist repressions in Crimea. However, this decree proved to be hollow, not only because there was no compensation, reparations or restitution offered, but also because Russia instituted a crack-down on Crimean Tatar dissidents who opposed the annexation and favored a continuing relationship with Ukraine. Leaders of the Crimean Tatar opposition have been subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention, which itself is a recognized violation of customary international law, and the general Crimean Tatar community has been subjected to a continuing reign of terror and Crimes Against Humanity, including arbitrary killings, arbitrary confiscation of property, state-sponsored and widespread theft of personal and real property, extortion and harassment of every possible variety.

It can reasonably be argued, therefore, that the genocide of the Crimean Tatars, which started in 1944, continues up until the present.

The mistreatment and persecution by Russia of the Crimean Tatars meets the generally accepted definition of genocide, since it specifically targeted a particular ethnic group for destruction, and implemented calculated policies to achieve that goal.  The Genocide Convention of 1948 specifically recognizes genocide to include: “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part.” This is precisely the policy that the Soviet Union formulated and carried out in 1944, and continues today.

Namibia: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide

Although it took Germany many decades, the German government finally accepted responsibility for the Holocaust, the German’s systematic attempt to annihilate the Jewish population of Europe. More recently, the German Parliament has passed a resolution condemning the forced relocation of the Armenian population by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as a genocide. Turkey promptly withdrew its ambassador from Berlin, which Germany took as a confirmation of its moral rectitude and sensitivity to human rights

However, before Germany gets carried away with its self-congratulatory righteousness, it must first come to terms with its first genocidal campaign, which took place in Africa many decades before the Jewish Holocaust. During the period from 1904 through 1908, Imperial German forces annihilated over 100,000 members of the Ovaherero and Namaqua tribes in what was then called Southwest Africa (now Namibia). This is now generally recognized as the first genocide of the Twentieth Century, and yet no mention of this dark period in German history can be found in German school textbooks, and few German students are even taught that Germany was one of the great colonial powers occupying substantial portions of sub-Sahara Africa.

Imperial Germany first established its colony in Southwest Africa in 1883, and then signed a treaty with the Chief of the Herero tribe, Kamaharero, on October 21, 1885. Interestingly, the treaty was signed on behalf of Imperial Germany by Heinrich Ernst Goring, the Colonial Governor and father of Nazi Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goring. No sooner than the ink was dry on the treaty documents than the Germany began repeated violations of its terms, including the rape of Herero women and girls by Germans, a crime that the German authorities largely ignored. Under German colonial rule, natives also were routinely used as slave laborers, and their lands and cattle were frequently confiscated and given to German colonists. By 1903, over a quarter of Herero lands (originally approximately 50,000 square miles) had been seized by German colonists. In addition, the confiscation of Herero and Nama lands was expedited following the completion of the Otavi Railway Line running from the South West African coast to the inland German settlements.

In early 1904, having learned of a German plan to further divide up their territory and to establish “reservations” or “concentration camps,” the Herero finally revolted, and armed primarily with spears, killed between 123 and 150 Germans. Led by Chief Samuel Maharero, the Herero surrounded the town of Okahandja and cut links toWindhoek, the colonial capital. Colonial Governor Leutwein, who reported to the Colonial Department of the Prussian Foreign Office, called for urgent assistance, and on June 11, 1904, Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, who had been appointed as Supreme Commander of South-West Africa, arrived with an expeditionary force of 14,000 troops. Trotha, who had earned a reputation as an effective and ruthless officer after effectively crushing a similar revolt against German colonial rule in East Africa, made clear his intentions to crush the resistance and to annihilate the Herero and Nama peoples. Prior to the Battle of Waterberg on August 11-12, 1904, where his troops defeated 3000-5000 Herero combatants, General Trotha issued the following proclamation:
I believe that the [Herero] nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this was not possible by tactical measures, have to be expelled from the country…This will be possible if the water-holes from Grootfontein to Gobabis are occupied. The constant movement of our troops will enable us to find the small groups of nation who have moved backwards and destroy them gradually.
After the battle, the pursuing German forces pushed the surviving Herero further into the desert. As the exhausted and dehydrated Herero fell to the ground, German soldiers acting on orders killed men, women, and children mercilessly, even though almost all of them were unarmed and unable to offer any resistance. They were just trying to get away with their cattle. Those who managed to make it into the desert were prevented by German troops from returning.

On October 2, 1904, Trotha issued the following warning:
The Herero nation must now leave the country. If it refuses, I shall compel it to do so with the ‘long tube’ [cannon]. Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people.
Trotha gave orders that captured Herero males were to be executed, while women and children were to be driven into the desert so that they would die of starvation and thirst. Trotha argued that there was no need to make exceptions for Herero women and children, since these would “infect German troops with their diseases.” Trotha further explained that his campaign to annihilate the Herero people “is and remains the beginning of a racial struggle”. Thereafter, German soldiers regularly raped young Herero women before killing them or letting them die in the desert.
The German general staff was aware of the atrocities that were taking place; its official publication, named Der Kampf,noted that:
This bold enterprise shows up in the most brilliant light the ruthless energy of the German command in pursuing their beaten enemy. No pains, no sacrifices were spared in eliminating the last remnants of enemy resistance. Like a wounded beast the enemy was tracked down from one water-hole to the next, until finally he became the victim of his own environment. The arid Omaheke [desert] was to complete what the German army had begun: the extermination of the Herero nation.

Governor Leutwein objected to Trotha’s “final solution” of the Herero and Nama “problem,” but not on humanitarian grounds. Rather he objected to the extermination of these indigenous peoples on economic grounds, writing that:
I do not concur with those fanatics who want to see the Herero destroyed altogether…I would consider such a move a grave mistake from an economic point of view. We need the Herero as cattle breeders…and especially as labourers.

By the end of 1904, the surviving Herero and Nama peoples remaining in South-West Africa, the majority of whom were women and children, were herded into concentration camps, where they were made available to colonists and private companies as slave laborers, or exploited as human guinea pigs in medical experiments. The most notorious of these camps was at Shark Island on the Atlantic coast, where the German authorities learned many of the lessons that were later employed at Auschwitz and other concentration camps during World War II. All prisoners were first divided into two categories: those who were fit to work and those who were not. For administrative purposes, pre-printed death certificates uniformly gave the cause of death as “death by exhaustion following privation.” Estimates of the mortality rate from disease, exhaustion and malnutrition at Shark Island and other concentration camps were between 45% and 74%. Despite these harsh conditions, any Herero who could still stand were taken outside the camp every day as forced laborers by the German guards, while the sick and dying were left without medical assistance. Shootings, hangings and beatings of the forced laborers were widely reported by eyewitnesses and in the press. One British eyewitness reported that “cartloads of their bodies were every day carted over to the back beach, buried in a few inches of sand at low tide, and as the tide came in the bodies were out, food for the sharks.”

Medical experiments on live prisoners were made by German doctors such as Dr. Bofinger, who injected Herero that were suffering from scurvy with various substances including arsenic and opium. After these “patients” inevitably died, he autopsied the bodies and reported the results. German doctors also experimented with dead body parts from prisoners, including those by Zoologist Leopard Schultzel, who noted that the taking of “body parts from fresh native corpses” was a “welcome addition.” An estimated 300 skulls were sent to Germany for experimentation, in part from concentration camp prisoners. The primary goal of the experimentation was to “prove” the superiority of the “white race” and the “Germanic people.” In October 2011, after three years of talks, the first skulls were returned to Namibia for burial, but the last human remains were not delivered back to Namibia until 2014.

Some researchers have drawn some direct links between the medical experiments by Dr. Eugen Fischer and later medical procedures used during the Nazi Holocaust. For example, Fischer later became chancellor of the University of Berlin, where he taught medicine to Nazi physicians. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer was a student of Fischer, and Verschuer himself had a prominent pupil, the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, who experimented on victims at the Auschwitz camp. In addition, Franz Ritter von Epp, who later participated in the liquidation of virtually all Bavarian Jews, took part in the Herero and Nama genocide as well.

Although the Shark Island Concentration Camp and other death camps were finally closed, the surviving Herero were distributed as forced or slave laborers to German settlers. All Herero over the age of seven were forced to wear a metal disc with their labor registration number. The Herero were also prohibited from owning land or cattle, both of which were considered necessary for survival.

In 1985, the United Nations’ Whitaker Report classified the massacres as an attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples of South-West Africa, and therefore one of the earliest cases of genocide in the 20th century.

In 1998, German President Roman Herzog visited Namibia and met Herero leaders. Chief Munjuku Nguvauva demanded a public apology and compensation, but Herzog stopped short of an apology, only expressing “regret.”

On August 16, 2004, at the 100th anniversary of the start of the genocide, a member of the German government, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany’s Minister for Economic Development and Cooperation, apologized and expressed grief about the genocide, but the German government quickly made it clear that her speech could not be interpreted as an “official apology” by Germany or a basis for the payment of any compensation, reparations or restitution.
The parallels between the Herero and Nama Genocides and the Holocaust are inescapable. Even the rhetoric used by Trotha eerily presages the language used by Hitler to justify the mass extermination of the Jewish people as an “ethnic cleansing.” Trotha saw the annihilation of the Herero and Nama peoples as serving a higher purpose, as part of the establishment of a new world order. He said: “I destroy the African tribes with streams of blood… Only following this cleansing can something new emerge, which will remain.”

Until Germany formally acknowledges the Herero-Nama Genocide and provides appropriate compensation, this dark stain on German history and its collective psyche cannot be fully atoned for. The return of some skulls is just not a full and adequate response. The German government has had some discussions with representatives of the Namibian government, but even if some settlement is reached between those two countries, this will not provide any satisfaction to the Herero or Nama peoples themselves since they are recognized indigenous groups with identities separate and distinct from the government of Namibia itself. Paramount Chief Vekuii Rukora is the current recognized leader of the Ovaherero in Namibia, but the Ovaherero peoples also have communities in Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere in Africa, as well as an expatriate community in the United States and other countries. Even in Namibia, the Herero and Nama communities are in the distinct minority, and the political parties they support have never played a major role in the Namibian government itself, which has been dominated by one political party since the country gained its independence in 1990. As a result, Chief Rukora and others have asked the law firm of McCallion & Associates LLP to represent them in their search for recognition and justice from Germany.