Op-Ed: Namibian genocide victims’ remains are home. But Germany still has work to do

Posted on September 05, 2018

Human remains kept by German institutions as part of their colonial loot were repatriated to Namibia at the end of August 2018 – the third time this has been done. And once again, the process was marred by serious friction, a clear illustration that both the German and Namibian governments have not come to terms with the problems involved.

Most human remains that had been taken from Namibia were from people killed during the genocide between 1904 and 1908, or related atrocities under German colonialism. It’s not known how many such remains are still in German “collections”.

But their repatriation cannot be de-linked from the need by Germany to admit to its colonial, state-sponsored crime. And the former colonial power has yet to take what’s needed to provide redress.

It took a full century after its colonial dreams of empire ended for Germany to accept - and then reluctantly -responsibility for the traumatic past. Only in July 2015 did the foreign ministry confirm that the term “genocide” was applicable to what happened in then “German South-West Africa”. This was finally confirmed as official policy a year later.

But bilateral negotiations remain at an impasse. The main unresolved issues are the full recognition of the genocide, an appropriate apology and a willingness for redress on the side of Germany.

During the ceremonies around the restitution of remains, German official pronouncements once again remained evasive. This means: no formal recognition of genocide, no official apology, and no mention at all of any redress.

True reconciliation remains a remote hope. To read the full article, please click here.

Henning Melber is an Extraordinary Professor with the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria. Reinhart Kössler is a Professor in Political Science at Freiburg University.

This article was first published in The Conversation of 4 September 2018.

- Author Henning Melber and Reinhart Kössler

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