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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
German bank accused of genocide
Namibia landscape
Namibia contains some of the harshest regions on earth
By the BBC's Duncan Bartlett:

An African tribe says it is suing Germany's largest bank for allegedly being involved in the slaughter of tens of thousands of its people.

The Herero tribe in Namibia claims Deutsche Bank was linked to a policy of genocide in the first few years of the 20th century.

It says more than 100,000 of their people died at the hands of German colonial armies between 1904 and 1907.

Many were killed by German soldiers. Others were poisoned or turned into slaves.


They destroyed our assets and our lives

Herero Tribal Chief Kauima Riruako
Now they have filed a $2bn lawsuit against the German government in a court in the United States.

Paramount tribal chief Kuaima Riruako told World Business Report that it was a question of justice: "I am suing legitimate governments and companies who happened to function in the colonial days," he said.

Bank targeted

Chief Riruako says the lawsuit also seeks damages against Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank, which financed the German government and companies linked with its colonial rule in Southern Africa.

The companies have two months to respond, although the Deutsche Bank's press office said it was not aware of receiving any formal notification of the law suit.

In a statement to World Business Report, a spokesman said: "In our view the accusations are unfounded and furthermore, we consider the issue a political rather than a legal one."

Earlier this year Germany pointed out that it is giving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Namibia.

And it said it was reluctant to target this money at a particular tribe or region because it was meant to be for the benefit of the people of Namibia as a whole.

Money for land

However, the Herero chief wants compensation to buy land from white farmers, which he then could give back to his people, he says.

The Herero insist that they are seeking proper legal redress and have no intention of grabbing land by force - as has happened in Zimbabwe.

They are also seeking a formal apology from the German government.


There was no prohibition on genocide at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact the term genocide hadn't been invented.

Professor James Crawford

As the case relates to events which happened nearly a century ago, experts say that chances are slim of it being settled now.

Professor James Crawford, an expert in international law at Cambridge University, told the BBC's World Business Report that any conduct would be judged by reference to the international law of the time.

Legal battles in the United States often take many years to resolve so there is little chance of this dispute being settled quickly.

But even if it doesn't eventually lead to any money changing hands, it will no doubt attract a great deal of publicity to the Herero cause.

See also:

05 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Namibia
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