This is the first article in the series of genocides of the 20th century. In which we will treat the cases of Herero and Namaqua in the German colony of Southwestern Africa between the years 1904 and 1907, the territory that today is Namibia; the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923; the Holodomor or extermination by famine perpetuated in the Ukrainian territory by the Soviet Union between the years 1932 and 1933; the Nazi genocide, which in addition to persecuting Jewish people systematically exterminated Gypsy people, certain religious cults, homosexuals and others; the Bengali genocide perpetuated by the Pakistani army in 1971; the Cambodian political genocide perpetuated by its communist leader Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979; the genocide of East Timor perpetuated by the Indonesian invading forces between 1975 and 1999; the Mayan genocide in the middle of the civil war between 1981 and 1983; the Anfal genocide against Kurdistan in the midst of the Iraq-Iran war between 1986 and 1989; the Bosnian genocide perpetuated by Serbia between 1991 and 1995 and the internal genocide of Rwanda in 1994.
Article II of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide stipulates: "Genocide means any of the acts mentioned below, perpetrated with the intention of destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious, as such: a) Killing of group members; b) Serious injury to the physical or mental integrity of the members of the group; c) Intentional submission of the group to conditions of existence that will lead to physical destruction, total or partial; d) Measures to prevent births within the group; e) Transfer by force of children of the group to another group ". Rafael Lemkin coined this crime as an international crime and it was from the Nuremberg Trials that this tool of law began to be used (Lemkin, 1947).
However, the definition of the crime of genocide does not include political motives - despite the fact that in this case we accept the Pol Pot case - and for this reason the subversive element in Latin America is not included from the last century to the present. These cases will be seen in detail later.
The history of the first genocide of the twentieth century begins at the moment of the recognition of Germany as an empire at the Berlin Conference in 1884, when Europe recognized South West Africa as an extension of German territory. Not without first going through a great economic contest with England for that territory that only ended with the defeat of Germany in the First World War when it passed into the hands of the English Crown. Some German companies started buying territory and it was in this way that they managed to settle gradually until they won an official position. The territory - in which the Herero and Namaqua tribes were hostile to each other, but the Herero were protected from the German Empire and the Nama were from the English (Voeltz, 1984) - then, it did not legally belong to the natives but to the conquerors and For this reason, the former had to request loans and permits to occupy the land.
The German protectorate was established through various agreements that linked the natives with the colonizers vertically: the people who decided to emigrate would be masters and the natives would be cheap labor, however, the laws protected them from physical abuse and supposedly he offered guarantees for peaceful and just coexistence with the invaders. Such agreements were not respected and there were various revolts. The war began with the Herero tribe once the Germans decided to break all the treaties and expropriate both their homes and their property.
Among the reasons to justify the war was the pseudoscience of racial superiority, which was present even in the medical experiments practiced in the Nazi genocide. Now, the human experimentation of the Reich II and the Reich III in concentration camps began here. The soldiers sold the skulls of the victims to different museums and scientific centers in Germany for research. Phrenology and other measurement methods such as the color of the iris and the hair were part of this study to compare "the animals" and "the Aryan people".
The armed conflict lasted two and a half months, during this time the German army took the Herero tribe to the Sossusvlei desert where thousands of people died of hunger and thirst. The main commander of the German army wrote an open letter in which he explicitly stated that any Herero person - women, children, unarmed elders were included - would be shot; Two types of rewards were also offered for delivering to persons of that racial origin. The strategy consisted in corralling the tribe with an armed power that exceeded it, taking it to the desert; not only were there warriors, the whole family group was present since the whole tribe, as a race, was considered a national enemy. Needless to say, there was not time to carry supplies of any kind. Once the surviving Herero were in the desert they had to dig wells in order to find water. Here they were found and chased away, the wells were sealed or poisoned until there were no more wells and holes of up to 13 meters were found in different places. Remains of people of all ages were scattered throughout the desert. Less than 1,000 people managed to cross the desert and find asylum in English territory. There were at least 80,000 Herero people before the war (Anderson, 2005). Officially, the death figures show about 60,000 Herero and 20,000 Namaqua. (Shigwedha, 2016).
Six months passed until 4,000 people were finally cornered and taken to the first German concentration camp in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, in which those were systematically exterminated through forced labor and starvation. Also, there were other concentration camps like Swakopmund, located in a coastal city where forced labor would generate profits. In the documentary Namibia Genocide and the Second Reich (Website) we can already see several antecedents of the practices that would happen later in the concentration camps of the Third Reich: to each Prisoner was assigned a number that was noted in a book and marked on a metal plate that hung around his neck. Also, some companies could rent slaves or, depending on their size, could have their own concentration camps. Another similarity is found in the field of Shark Island in Lüderitz, a space dedicated entirely to extermination, this time not only Herero people but also Namaqua.
There is no type of recognition of the genocide and, therefore, no memorial or memorial place, there are no delimitations of the places where common graves are known. On the contrary, monuments are erected to the German soldiers fallen in combat and to the general responsible for the genocide around these historical sites. In 1908 the concentration camps were closed.
The armed struggle for the independence of Namibia lasted 22 years. In 1988, New York: the agreement between Cuba, Angola, South Africa, the United Nations and Namibia was signed to withdraw the Cuban military presence from Angola beginning in 1989 with a duration of 27 months from April and in which South Africa committed itself to United Nations to relinquish control of Namibia to give independence to the territory through a plan approved by that entity that would last for 10 years. According to the New York Times, "the three governments gave their word "to respect the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the states of South-West Africa. They promised not to allow their territory to be used by any state, organization or person in connection with acts of war, aggression or violence against other nations of the region" (Lewis, 1988).
Despite having gained independence, Namibia does not own all of its territory. One of the greatest struggles still in force today is legal recognition, in this case, compensation for the genocide committed at the beginning of the 20th century. Much of the territory still belongs to the Germans, however, the methods by which they were acquired were almost completely unfounded, with the exception of buying part of it from the English. The question of the locals, especially, of the descendants of the victims of the genocide after independence is why these lands do not belong to us? And the phrase of one of the greatest representatives of the struggle is: "we are not asking for a piece of Germany, we are asking for what belongs to us, our own country: Namibia".
In 2004 a German representative went to give a speech to the country in which she acknowledged the genocide and publicly apologized for it. However, no German president has discussed the possibility of compensating the victims. Do some genocides weigh more than others? Do we have to be of a certain race to be granted certain rights? Why is there no compensation and real recognition for the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century? Why were the culprits not condemned in the Nuremberg Trials if they were still alive? Why did they not condemn the German state for its first genocide? Is an apology enough?
Anderson, R. 2005. Redressing Colonial Genocide under International Law: The Hereros' Cause of Action against Germany. En: California Law Review Vol. 93, No. 4 (Jul., 2005), pp. 1155-1189.
Koslowska, J. 2004. BBC Namibia - Genocide and The Second Reich documentary commemorating 100 years since the Herero and Nama genocide. Website
Lewis, P. 1988. Angola and Namibia Accords Signed. En: The New York Times DEC. 23, 1988.
Prein, P. 1994. Guns and Top Hats: African Resistance in German South West Africa, 1907-1915. En: Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 99-121.
R, Lemkin. 1947. El genocidio como un crimen bajo el Derecho Internacional. En: American Journal of International Law. Vol. 41(1):145-151.Traducción del Dr. Gonzalo Rodrigo Paz Mahecha, miembro del Grupo de Investigación Luís Carlos Pérez* de la Universidad Santiago de Cali, Facultad de Derecho. Cali, Colombia. Website
Anstett, E. Dreyfus, J-M. 2016. The return of Herero and Nama bones from Germany: the victims’ struggle for recognition and recurring genocide memories in Namibia. En: Human Remains in Society. Manchester University Press: Manchester.
Voeltz, R. 1984. The European Economic and Political Penetration of South West Africa, 1884-1892. En: The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 17, No. 4 (1984), pp. 623-639.
Werner, W. 1990. 'Playing Soldiers': The Truppenspieler Movement among the Herero of Namibia, 1915 to ca. 1945. En: Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Sep., 1990), pp. 476-502.