Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Commend Namibia on Efforts to Expand Educational Opportunities for Marginalised Groups, Ask Questions on Disparities Between Ethnic Groups in Access to Voting Rights and Poverty Levels
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic reports of Namibia, with Committee Experts commending the State on its efforts to expand educational opportunities for marginalised groups, while asking questions on disparities between ethnic groups in access to voting rights and poverty levels.
Sheikha Abdulla Ali Al‑Misnad, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, commended the State party on its efforts to expand educational opportunities through activities such as mobile schools and normal schools established to cover regions resided in by marginalised groups. What steps had been taken to improve the quality of education? The State party had also made efforts to expand teaching to 15 different languages in schools. Why were the Khaudam, Ankoe!, Kx’a and Taa/Tuu languages not being taught in schools?
Ms. Al‑Misnad asked how the State party ensured that persons from groups distinguishable by their race, colour, descent or language exercised their voting rights during elections. It was reported that some San people did not have identity cards and thus could not participate in elections. What steps were taken by the Electoral Commission to implement registration and education of voters ahead of elections?
Gay McDougall, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that, reportedly, marginalised communities were up to twice as poor as the white population. Had these poverty levels changed over the years, and what recent legislative and policy measures had been taken to lower the poverty rate for marginalised groups?
Introducing the report, Festus Mbandeka, Attorney General of Namibia and head of the delegation, said Namibia was committed to ensuring equal access to education for all. The Government’s efforts towards this aim included building mobile schools for marginalised groups such as the San, Ovatue and Ovatjimba, who were living a nomadic life. Namibia had an inclusive educational policy which prohibited segregation practices in school enrolment, and aimed to ensure that the education system was inclusive for all children.
On access to voting rights, the delegation said people living in rural areas had limited access to education and information about elections. The Electoral Commission had been travelling to remote areas to identify persons who did not have identity documents and assist them in obtaining these documents. Political parties were obliged to inform voters about elections and how to vote.
Mr. Mbandeka said that Namibia, like many former colonies, continued to experience the consequences of historical biases, which negatively affected various segments of society. The World Bank had indicated that Namibia was one of the most unequal societies in the world, with widening disparities. In addressing these challenges, the Government was implementing various programmes to actively promote employment and investment in the country and to fight impediments to development, such as corruption. Nearly half of Namibia’s budget was allocated to social sector priorities. The delegation added that the Government provided grants to orphans, vulnerable children, and elderly persons, with the aim to eradicate poverty. Health and social welfare services were affordable and provided impartially, regardless of factors such as race and ethnicity.
In concluding remarks, Ms. McDougall thanked the delegation for taking the Committee’s questions seriously. The Committee would examine the information provided by the delegation closely. She called for additional information in writing on the outcomes of measures and legislation implemented, especially for racially disadvantaged groups.
Mr. Mbandeka, in concluding remarks, said Namibia was committed to the fight against all forms of racial discrimination, and was ensuring that its legal framework fully addressed the provisions of the Convention. The issues and questions the Committee had raised had been fully noted, and its concluding observations would inform future legal and policy reform in Namibia.
The delegation of Namibia consisted of representatives of the Office of the Attorney-General; the Ministry of Justice; and the Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Namibia after the conclusion of its one hundred and tenth session on 31 August. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and tenth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 17 August at 3 p.m. to consider the combined nineteenth to twenty-third periodic reports of Senegal (CERD/C/SEN/19-23).
The Committee has before it the combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic reports of Namibia (CERD/C/NAM/16-18).
Presentation of Report
FESTUS MBANDEKA, Attorney General of Namibia and Head of the Delegation, said as a developing country, Namibia faced challenges associated with data that hampered research and detailed analysis of the inequalities within society. To overcome these challenges, the Government continued to make use of the National Statistics Agency and United Nations agencies, to compile data in various sectors. Namibia and its people had emerged from a brutal history of colonialism, genocide, racism and apartheid. At independence, Namibia adopted a national reconciliation policy as set out under the Preamble of the Namibian Constitution. The Namibian Constitution provided for the entrenched rights to non-discrimination and equality for all. Article 23 explicitly prohibited practices of racial discrimination and apartheid ideologies and was supplemented by the Racial Discrimination Prohibition Act 1991. Reported cases of racial discrimination were investigated and prosecuted in the courts under this legislation. The Office of the Prosecutor-General had recorded seven cases of racial discrimination since 2020, which were pending before the courts. Namibia was also working to enact specific legislation to address hate speech under the Combating of Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment and Hate Speech draft Bill, spearheaded by the Office of the Ombudsman.
Namibia, like many former colonies, continued to experience the consequences of historical biases, which negatively affected various segments of society. The World Bank had indicated that Namibia was one of the most unequal societies in the world, with widening disparities. In addressing these challenges, the Government was implementing programmes to actively promote employment and investment in the country and to fight impediments to development, such as corruption. Nearly half of Namibia’s budget was allocated to social sector priorities. In addressing historical economic inequalities, affirmative action measures were provided for by Article 23 of the Namibian Constitution and the Affirmative Action Act 1998, which fostered fair employment practices for members of marginalised communities.
Namibia was committed to ensuring equal access to education for all. The Namibian Constitution guaranteed the right to free primary education for all, and the Government had strengthened efforts to ensure that every child residing in Namibia had access to education. Such efforts included the building of mobile schools for marginalised groups such as the San, Ovatue and Ovatjimba, who were living a nomadic life. Namibia had an inclusive educational policy which prohibited segregation practices in school enrolment and aimed to ensure that the education system was inclusive for all children. The policy had a specific focus on children who were more likely to be educationally marginalised, including foreign nationals and refugees.
Access to land remained one of the greatest indicators of inequality in Namibia. German colonial rules, compounded by apartheid policies which saw Namibians forcefully removed from their ancestral land, had bestowed ownership of the majority of commercial land to white people. Descendants of these white settlers continued to occupy land in Namibia today, many of whom were absentee landlords. Namibia’s Human Development Report of 2019 stated that while over 70 per cent of Namibians made their living from communal land, fewer than 5,000 individuals owned freehold farmland. Namibia therefore implemented land reform policies and legislation that were aimed at addressing land ownership and distribution in Namibia. The Government introduced several legislative interventions and established the Agricultural Bank, with the mandate of advancing money for the promotion of agriculture and related activities. One key intervention was the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, which enabled emerging farmers from previously disadvantaged communities to acquire farms in commercial areas.
Namibia pledged its unwavering commitment to continue working towards the realisation of racial equality and the elimination of racism and racial discrimination in all spheres of life.
Questions by Committee Experts
GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, congratulated the State party on its opening statement, which directly addressed the list of themes raised by the Committee. She said that she had lived in Namibia for a year, during which time she witnessed the switching of flags from the South African to the Namibian flags. In the Committee’s last concluding observations of 2016, it requested that the State party amend the Racial Discrimination Act to bring the definition of discrimination in line with the Convention, covering both direct and indirect discrimination. Had any recent steps been taken towards amending the law? The full implementation of the Repeal of Obsolete Laws Act of 2018 had reportedly been interrupted. What had been the consequences of the interruption? What pre-independence, racially discriminatory laws remained in force?
Ms. McDougall called for examples of cases or complaints in which the Convention or the Prohibition of Racial Discrimination Act 1991 had been invoked before national courts. How many cases or complaints had been received, and what were their outcomes? What measures had been taken to raise awareness of the Convention among judges, prosecutors, and judicial officials? What initiatives were in place to raise public awareness of their rights under the Prohibition of Racial Discrimination Act 1991 and the Convention, and their right of access to justice? Could the delegation comment on reported limitations to access to courts, a shortage of trained judges, prosecutors and Magistrates, excessive filing fees and difficulties bridging the huge cultural divide between indigenous communities and court procedures? What measures were in place to promote access to justice?
What steps had been taken to implement the Committee’s previous recommendation to devise a law against hate speech with a specific criminal sanction? What legal provisions existed to combat hate speech or incitement? How many cases had been filed to challenge an incident of hate speech or incitement, and how many had resulted in convictions? What efforts had been made to pass the Ombudsman’s draft Combating of Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment and Hate Speech Bill? Was the Law Reform and Development Committee operational?
What steps had the State taken in follow-up to the complaints brought to the Ombudsman concerning hate speech and hate crimes, including those on the use of derogatory names against black people and abuse of black workers? What steps had the State and private organisations taken to combat and denounce the use of racist language in environments, including sports? What resources had the State provided to support the Editors Forum of Namibia Ombudsman, which was responsible for investigating violations of the Self-Regulatory Code of Ethics and Conduct, which prohibited hate speech, crimes and incitement?
What steps had been taken by the State to address racial profiling? The Ombudsman had reported a tendency of the Namibian Police Force to stop and search vehicles of non-white Namibians, but not of white Namibians. What laws applied, and what administrative disciplinary procedures were taken against offenders? How many complaints had been lodged with the police, the Ombudsman, the prosecutors or the courts? Had investigations always been carried out after complaints by an independent body? What had been the outcomes?
SHEIKHA ABDULLA ALI AL‑MISNAD, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, congratulated the State party for the Ombudsman’s “A” status accreditation by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. The Ombudsman produced strong, objective reports.
Ms. Al‑Misnad called for information on action taken in follow-up to complaints relating to racism and racial discrimination brought to the Ombudsman. What kind of assistance could the Ombudsman provide to victims? What awareness raising initiatives were led by the Ombudsman to inform disadvantaged groups of their rights, the Convention and the services provided by the Ombudsman ? What was the status of the proposed Ombudsman Bill? Had civil society organizations been consulted throughout its development? Did the Bill include provisions that would guarantee independence, formalise the process of appointment of Ombudspersons, and secure adequate resources? What resources were provided to the Ombudsman? What measures had been taken in follow-up to the findings of the Ombudsman’s recent inquiry, “A nation divided: why do racism and other forms of discrimination persist after twenty-seven years of independence”?
The State party report provided data on workforce profiles disaggregated by “racially advantaged” and “racially disadvantaged”. Did “racially advantaged” refer to white people? What was the total population of “racially disadvantaged” people and what percentage of the total population did they constitute? What was the total population of employed persons and what percentage of this total did “racially disadvantaged” people constitute? Which socio-economic indicators would be included and how would data be disaggregated in the upcoming national census?
What steps had been taken in follow-up to the complaint brought to the Ombudsman concerning the 98 per cent representation of Awaambo people among diplomats deployed to Namibian missions? The Expert called for data on the number of persons from groups distinguishable by their language, as well as indigenous peoples that were in senior positions of Government. What measures were in place to ensure adequate political representation of people from all communities, at all levels of Government?
How did the State party ensure that persons from groups distinguishable by their race, colour, descent or language exercised their voting rights during elections? It was reported that some San people did not have identity cards and thus could not participate in elections. What steps were taken by the Electoral Commission to implement registration and education of voters ahead of elections? What was the progress of implementation of the Whitepaper on Indigenous Peoples developed by the Ombudsman? What steps had been taken to expand recognition of community-appointed traditional authorities?
The Committee was aware of instances in which public officials had threatened local communities affected by development projects, telling them not to interfere, for example the communities affected by the development of hydropower plants. While noting the avenues to appeal decisions, what mechanisms existed to guarantee that communities potentially affected by development projects were consulted with a view to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, said that the State party had not submitted a follow-up report regarding the previous concluding observations of 2016. He called on it to submit follow-up reports in future. In previous concluding observations, the Committee requested the State party to make amendments to the Ombudsman’s Act. Amendments were reportedly underway. Could more information be provided? The Committee had also requested information on work to prevent discrimination and segregation of marginalised communities and promote the rights of indigenous peoples. Mr. Kut called for more information on progress made since 2020 in this regard.
A Committee Expert asked about implementation of the 1991 law on racial discrimination, which did not cover all grounds for hate speech and discrimination. Did the State party intend to undertake more reforms to align the legislation with the Convention? What would the State party do to house populations that had suffered from the country’s colonial heritage? Since 2021, Germany had recognised the genocide that was detrimental to indigenous populations. Were the reparations sufficient? Was the State party considering community-based reparations and a National Day of Remembrance, to compensate for the effects of colonisation? Which body had competence regarding issues linked to harmful cultural practices?
Another Committee Expert said that the leader of the delegation had referred to a cybercrimes bill and a proposed hate speech bill. Would these bills address hate speech on online platforms, where it was difficult to identify perpetrators?
One Committee Expert asked if there was a dividing line between the tasks of the Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice? In some countries, these two roles were carried out by the same person. The State party had not provided detailed information on cases involving hate speech and racial discrimination. Why were seven cases since 2020 still being considered? What was the “pre-trial stage” that one case was at?
A Committee Expert welcomed that the delegation included many women. Why was racism persistent in Namibia after years of independence, and why was the nation divided?
Another Committee Expert asked about the process of appointment for the Ombudsman. What was the Ombudsman’s term of office, and could they recruit their own staff? Reportedly, there was only one member of the San community in Parliament. What measures were in place to increase the representation of indigenous peoples in Parliament and other Government institutions?
Responses by the Delegation
FESTUS MBANDEKA, Attorney General of Namibia and head of the delegation, said that Commonwealth countries dealt with the offices of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice differently. In Namibia, the portfolios had been joined at times, and separated at others. There was no overlap between the functions of the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Justice in Namibia. The roles were complementary; the Ministry of Justice prepared legal frameworks, which the Attorney-General assessed in terms of their constitutionality. Resources were shared between the offices.
The terms “racially disadvantaged” and “racially advantaged” made distinction between blacks and whites. Blacks were institutionally discriminated against during the colonial era. The Constitution included provisions for affirmative action measures to address the injustices of the colonial era. These terms were used to empower groups that had been formerly discriminated against. The Government was working to uplift marginalised communities through public polices, institutions and investment. Social programmes had been created to support these communities and other developments provided these communities with access to land. This was an ongoing process.
The delegation said the Constitution included provisions that corresponded to the provisions of the Convention concerning racial discrimination. The Constitution formed part of Namibian law. These provisions were invoked in Namibian courts. There was one case in 2022 where article six of the Convention was invoked, and a case on genocide where article 23 was invoked. The Legal Aid Act provided all persons in Namibia with the opportunity to obtain legal aid to pursue cases concerning racial discrimination. Free legal advice was provided through legal aid offices and a radio broadcast provided information on the provisions of the Convention. Community courts were available to support access to justice. Two acts had been passed in 2021 and 2022 to address racial discrimination.
The Whitepaper on Indigenous Peoples had been finalised, and the Ombudsman had submitted it to the Government, which had used it as a basis for developing policies and legislation in support of indigenous peoples in 2021 and 2022. A workshop had been held in June 2023 on the Whitepaper, and a related draft law would be submitted to Parliament later this year. The law would allow for preferential treatment in terms of employment decisions. It was hoped that the commission which would operate the law would become operational by the end of 2023.
The Ombudsman Bill was currently with the Attorney-General for certification. The Attorney-General was confirming that all the provisions of the Bill were in line with the Constitution. It was one of the Bills that had been prioritised for tabling in 2023. The Bill made reference to the independence of the Ombudsman, and allocated a dedicated budget to the activities of the Ombudsman, which included outreach programmes, and visits to places of detention and shelters for victims of abuse. The Bill also included provisions broadening the functions of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman supported children’s access to justice and support services. The Ministry of Justice provided resources to the Ombudsman based on requests. The Executive did not interfere with the work of the Ombudsman.
People living in rural areas had limited access to education and information about elections. The Electoral Commission had been travelling to remote areas, to identify persons who did not have identity documents and assist them in obtaining these documents. Political parties were obliged to inform voters about elections and how to vote.
There had never been an attempt to limit the rights of communities to appoint a traditional leader. If communities were not able to appoint traditional leaders, the State investigated the traditions of the region and provided a report to inform the appointment of the leader. The State did not directly interfere with the appointment of traditional leaders. Initiatives had been taken to provide members of the judiciary with training and build their capacities. Targeted training programmes focused on specific areas.
There was formerly a Directorate for San Communities, but this had been revamped and its mandate broadened, to address other marginalised indigenous communities. The institute implemented measures to support indigenous peoples, including educational programmes.
A national recommendations database was in place to record recommendations issued by international treaty bodies. The Government was currently considering these as part of its efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Namibia was implementing these recommendations within viable timeframes and performing assessments to ensure accountability for implementation.
Namibia would earnestly consider including provisions on discrimination based on descent and on indirect and direct discrimination within legislation. There was a Bill on hate speech that had been developed by the Office of the Ombudsman, which was before the Law Reform Commission. The Commission had a mandate to consult widely, which had slowed the process. The Government had passed a law on electronic transactions, which called on internet service providers to monitor hate speech and ensure that content complied with national legislation.
The State approached statistics on ethnicity and tribal groups with caution, considering its history. There were fears that identifying as a certain ethnicity could lead to discrimination. Hence, questions on ethnicity within the census were voluntary. The State had adopted English as a common language to unite the nation but was working to promote the use of the various languages that its people spoke.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
One Committee Expert said that in the age of generative artificial intelligence, the question of whether hate speech laws were fit-for-purpose was an important issue. Had the State party considered this?
Another Committee Expert said that the Ministry of Justice had jurisdiction over all persons in the State. What conditions had to be met to access legal aid? Why did the State have two Supreme Courts and how did the court system work?
A Committee Expert asked why the Ombudsman was absent from the dialogue. Victims in Namibia could go through traditional or common law courts. How did the State address the differences between these systems? Would laws be introduced to prevent the State from interfering with the Ombudsman?
One Committee Expert welcomed measures to promote the rights of indigenous peoples. Why did minority groups continue to suffer? Were cultural practices a factor?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said Namibia was at the beginning of the process of developing cyber laws. Technology was developing fast, and law was always lagging in relation to those developments. The Government would amend cyber laws progressively to address new developments.
Namibia’s court system had three tiers: the low courts, the High Court, and the Supreme Court, the latter of which was the supreme authority. The Government was investigating how the judicial system should serve persons in remote communities. All tiers of the court system had started carrying out mobile services to assist persons in regional areas, including in the south and north-east of the country.
The delegation was not aware of why the Ombudsman was not attending the dialogue, but he had submitted a shadow report to inform the dialogue.
Questions by Committee Experts
GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that, reportedly, the depth of poverty in 2021 was higher amongst the population whose main spoken language at home was Khoisan (61.5 per cent), Otjiherero (54.3 per cent), other African languages (47.5 per cent) and Rukavango (47.2 per cent). The lowest intensity ratio was reported amongst the population whose main spoken language was other European languages (37.2 per cent), followed by German (38.9 per cent) and English (39.6 per cent). Marginalised communities were thus up to twice as poor as the white population. Bridging the gap between these groups was crucial. Had these poverty levels changed over the years, and how did the State intend to lower the poverty rate for marginalised groups? What recent legislative and policy measures had been taken to ensure equal enjoyment of social, economic and cultural rights for women from marginalised groups, including measures to secure their inheritance and land rights, and access to healthcare and employment?
There were reports that Government employees often discriminated against the San people, deterring the San from seeking assistance at hospitals, police stations and schools. What efforts had the Government taken to train its officials in cultural sensitivity and hold them accountable for discrimination? How were officials monitored? San people with no access to land could not procure natural remedies, which were reportedly rejected by Government healthcare workers. What steps had been taken to address this problem? Had Government health care workers been trained to identify and respect traditional remedies that were effective, and support them? To what extent had traditional healers been trained to render both traditional, and Western health care solutions?
What was the status of the new Land Reform Law? What was the timeframe for revising the national resettlement policy, and which communities had been consulted regarding the revision? Under the previous national land reform policy, only certain groups were classified as “disadvantaged communities” eligible for redistributed land, including the San, displaced communities and war veterans. Would these classifications be revaluated to include additional groups? Between 2020 and 2022, an estimated three million hectares of land had been redistributed to black farmers through the land reform programme and the Agribank loan scheme. Could the State show that the redistributed land had not been concentrated into the hands of a few individuals? What steps had been taken to implement the recommendations made during the Second National Land Conference? What was the status of the 2019 Commission of Inquiry on the claims of ancestral land and restitution? What percentage of the ancestral lands had been demarcated, fully registered and titled? Had penalties for illegal fencing been effective in reducing construction? What was the process of consultation with indigenous communities when mining or other extractive industry companies, sought to develop projects on indigenous lands? What grievance mechanisms were available for indigenous peoples to challenge land related matters? What was the role of the Ancestral Land Commission and its outcomes?
Ms. McDougall asked what steps were taken to involve the legitimate traditional representatives of the Ovaherero and Nama peoples in interactions with the Federal Republic of Germany, over reparations claims? There had been protests from the Ovaherero indigenous communities and civil society over the processes, with the Ovaherero calling for additional reparations. Had the State party recognised historical injustices during illegal occupation? Had the State party demanded the restitution of looted artifacts and human remains, taken to attempt scientific proof of the inferiority of Africans? Had memorials been built or planned to remember all those who suffered or died under past oppressive regimes and those who fought against them?
SHEIKHA ABDULLA ALI AL‑MISNAD, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee commended the State party on its efforts to expand educational opportunities through activities such as mobile schools and normal schools established to cover regions resided in by marginalised groups. What steps had been taken to improve the quality of education? The State party had also made efforts to expand teaching to 15 different languages in schools. Why were the Khaudam, Ankoe!, Kx’a and Taa/Tuu languages not being taught in schools?
Ms. Al-Misnad said nearly four percent of youth in Namibia had no formal education, and there were disparities between urban and rural areas. Nearly 10,000 students reportedly dropped out from school each year, and the highest dropout rates were in indigenous communities. What social, economic or remedial systems were offered? What systems were in place for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of existing programmes to address school dropout, including those under the State party’s scholarships and empowerment workshops and the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund? Education in Namibia was only free at primary level. How did the State intend to improve participation in secondary education? What human rights education was provided in schools? How was racism addressed? How did the State party intend to address issues of bullying and teacher’s negative attitudes towards marginalised groups?
What were the legislative guarantees of the rights of non-citizens, including refugees and asylum seekers, with respect to accessing basic services? Had the State party taken any steps towards the ratification of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness? What actions had been implemented to enhance local integration of non-citizens, including the planned integration of former Angolan refugees? What complaints mechanisms were accessible for non-citizens residing in the Osire refugee settlement? Did the State party have plans to withdraw its reservation on article 26 of the 1951 Refugee Convention? The head of delegation had referenced several measures to address statelessness but had noted that measures would support “certain groups” only. What were these groups?
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Chairperson, said history education was important for students to understand the harms of the colonial era. Was history education compulsory and was the State party considering widening its scope?
One Committee Expert asked what measures were in place to lift language barriers and increase the San’s access to healthcare?
Another Committee Expert asked about possible reforms to Agrarian law to address indigenous peoples and efforts to prevent depravation of indigenous land. Was the State party considering adopting measures to protect human rights defenders? Had Namibia suffered trans-Atlantic slavery and trafficking? Germany had promised 30 million euros to aid development. Had the State party considered adopting a memorial day on the State’s painful past,? Were there communities that had aided genocidal acts by the German population? What measures were in place to mark the Decade of People of African Descent? Were there any policies to protect people with albinism from discrimination? Was there a policy in place to promote the participation of civil society in political processes?
A Committee Expert asked whether the State party had a stateless determination policy and a migration policy.
Another Expert said Committee Expert Gay McDougall was a great activist for the rights of African people. Even today, Africa was still being colonised, partly due to instability. Did the State party consider the history of the State when it undertook reforms, to give rights to those who had not received it? Namibia deserved freedom and independence.
Another Committee Expert asked whether Namibia’s two Supreme Courts were staffed with different judges. How many Supreme Court judges were there? There was a Supreme Court case which decided that denial of immigration status to non-Namibians married to Namibians in same-sex marriages, conducted overseas, was unconstitutional. There had been protests regarding this decision. What actions had the Government taken regarding this decision?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said new figures regarding poverty would be collected in the 2023 census. The Government provided grants to orphans, vulnerable children, and elderly persons, with the aim to eradicate poverty. Health and social welfare services were affordable and provided impartially, regardless of factors such as race and ethnicity. A programme provided communities in disadvantaged areas with health services, including Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS assistance to San communities. There were clear health guidelines that ensured there was no gap in the quality of services offered between urban and rural areas, including in the languages spoken by health professionals. The Government did not deter citizens from using traditional medicine, however they did deter the use of dangerous medicines, such as those that poisoned citizens.
The Government had strengthened efforts to support access to education for marginalised groups, including building mobile schools. Inspectors were mandated to ensure that children in rural areas had access to quality education. The dropout rate was monitored and causes were attended to. The inclusive education policy prohibited segregation in school enrolment. History was a compulsory subject from age 15, ensuring that children were taught about Namibia’s colonial past.
A national inquiry was being carried out to investigate practices of discrimination against persons with albinism. Such practices persisted, and the delegation welcomed recommendations from the Committee on how to tackle this issue.
The Land Reform Bill was currently being considered by the Ministry of Agriculture. The national resettlement policy was passed by Cabinet in June 2023. The groups classified as “disadvantaged groups” within this policy included women and youth. The Agribank continued to provide “soft loans” that did not require collateral, to aid the farming needs of the community. There was a committee dealing with the recommendations of the Land Conference. 123 resolutions from the Conference were currently being implemented. The Commission of Inquiry into claims of ancestral land rights had gathered information on the extent of dispossession and developed a report which recommended the establishment of a tribunal, to judge on land claims. There was a fine for the illegal fencing of communal areas for between 4,000 to 15,000 Namibian dollars. Communal land boards resolved fencing and other land issues within communities. Each region had its own land board, which worked closely with traditional authorities in the allocation of land and definition of land rights. Traditional authorities were the custodians of land, issuing lease rights to community members. If community members were not happy with the decisions of land boards, they could raise appeals with the traditional authorities.
Violence against women and children was related to socio-economic status and was a national concern and priority. There were provisions within legislation, on sexual harassment and unfair labour practices. Companies were required to include women within directors’ boards or ownership structures. There was a national action plan on preventing violence against women, and a task force was in place to devise policies to prevent such violence. There were measures within the Criminal Procedure Act and Childcare and Protection Act to protect the rights of women and children who were victims of violence. Psychosocial support was provided to women and children throughout the judicial process. The Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act included provisions that provided shelters for women who were victims of trafficking. There was a gender-based violence unit within the police force, eight shelters for women who had suffered violence, and a training programme for social workers who supported such women. Child marriage was prohibited and the age for marriage was 21 years. Persons younger than 21 required special consent from the Government to marry.
Namibia had developed an external migration policy that was adopted in 2022. The Immigration Control Act dealt with the migration of foreign nationals and included provisions that allowed for access into the country. There was also legislation in place to ensure the rights of refugees and foreign nationals. A bill to recognise statelessness had been submitted to Parliament. The bill referred to South-West African refugees, who would be dealt with differently to refugees from other regions. The Osire refugee camp ensured that refugees and asylum seekers had access to adequate health, education facilities, social centres, a library and a police station, which ensured security within the camp. Free transport was provided to courts for refugees and asylum seekers. Legislation was in place to address trafficking in persons. 23 cases were currently being prosecuted, including nine in the High Court and six in regional courts. 17 cases concerning organised crime were also being prosecuted. Namibia continued to maintain its reservation to the 1951 Refugee Convention, as the State continued to ensure the safety of refugees within the Osire camp.
The right to political participation was guaranteed to every Namibian citizen and the Government continued to encourage citizens to participate in politics. The Electoral Commission conducted education on voting rights in all regions and set up mobile polling stations in regional communities. Members of marginalised communities were included in youth representative boards.
Persons needed to have an income of less than 3,500 Namibian dollars to receive legal aid, although in certain cases, legal aid was provided to persons with higher salaries. The Legal Aid Centre provided free legal advice in various languages once a month, for the benefit of marginalised communities.
The issue of reparation had not risen to prominence in the past as Namibia had prioritised gaining independence. Recently, the Government had engaged with the German Government to secure reparations for past abuses. The Namibian Government had set up committees, including with victimised community members, to deal with the issue of genocide. These committees were involved in negotiations with the German Government. A “chief’s forum” was also established to brief affected communities on the status of negotiations and to involve willing participants in negotiations. In 2020, the parties formed a joint declaration to recognise that genocide was committed in Namibia. Germany had agreed to issue an apology and to pay reparations to the Namibian people. Consultations on this agreement with affected communities had been carried out, and the resulting document had been submitted to Parliament. The Government had identified outstanding issues that it would now raise with the German Government. Restitution funds would be used for the benefit of affected communities, including to support their education and infrastructure. The affected communities would be included in structures to determine how the money would be spent. The parties were still engaged in dealing with the outstanding issues and determining modalities for reparation. A portion of reparation funds would be dedicated to creating a mechanism to memorialise the history of the State.
The Supreme Court was the court of final instance. The High Court was divided into two courts, one located in the north and one in the south. Both courts were staffed with full-time judges, including women. The lower magistrate court was the court of first instance. The Supreme Court decision involving individuals who had concluded a same-sex marriage outside of Namibia addressed same-sex marriages outside of Namibia only. The Government respected the separation of powers between the legislature and the courts, and was committed to respecting the decisions of the courts. People had the democratic right to express their views for and against the decision. The Government would consider the constitutionality of any future law addressing same-sex marriage.
Namibia was committed to preserving and protecting the environment, and laws were in place in this regard. There were green hydrogen and exploration projects in place across the country, which were required to consider the impact on local communities. Net-zero targets should not be met at the expense of poverty eradication and economic development.
The use of excessive force was illegal, and in extreme cases was criminalised as assault and murder. Members of police and defence forces were prosecuted if found to have used excessive force. There were cases where officers had been prosecuted and penalised for using excessive force. The police force had an internal investigative directorate that investigated claims of excessive use of force. In the most recent case, police officers were found guilty of murder. From January 2023 to date, five persons who were victims of excessive use of force by the police had received reparations from the Government. The Government was working to enhance police training and sensitise the police force regarding human rights.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked for clarification on the amount of reparation agreed on with Germany. Did Namibia receive foreign assistance from Germany regularly, and would the reparation payment complement this? The formal justice system was intimidating for the San people, and language and the location of courts were also barriers to accessing justice for these people. Was the State party considering additional measures to address these barriers? What was the relationship between village courts and the common law court system? What had been the outcomes of laws and policies to address violence against women?
SHEIKHA ABDULLA ALI AL‑MISNAD, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that sports like soccer and basketball were reportedly classified as “black sports” and rugby as a “white sport”. How was the State party addressing racial classifications within school such as this? Was the State party addressing a reported lack of textbooks? There was a limited number of teachers with university credentials, and teachers working with marginalised communities were often unfamiliar with the language and culture. Were there any attempts to sufficiently train teachers from within marginalised communities?
One Committee Expert asked about the extent of legal aid provided by the State. How were appeals against land rights decisions lodged? Who owned ancestral land in Namibia? What was the system of incorporating international instruments into national legislation?
A Committee Expert welcomed the efforts the State party was undertaking to ensure that Namibia was in line with international standards. The State should accede to international instruments such as those on statelessness before reforming national legislation. Climate change affected nomadic and indigenous populations in Namibia. What measures were in place to enable those populations to enjoy their rights?
Another Committee Expert regretted the fact that the delegation had not dealt with the issue of colonisation. The lack of a commemoration day addressing the colonial era was striking. The State party needed to address the consequences of colonisation.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the issue of reparation would continue to be debated for years to come. The State party would develop a legal framework to allow for continued negation and future requests for funds as needs arose. Namibia had a good working relationship with Germany, and the technical support that Germany provided would not be part of the reparation payment. Namibia had marked commemorations of its colonial eras. On 26 August, the heroes who fought for independence would be celebrated, and Human Rights Day was also celebrated to remember past abuses. Cabinet was also setting up a day to commemorate the past genocide and was currently debating the date for this commemoration. Sites had also been identified where historical events, including massacres had taken place. The delegation appreciated the sentiments expressed and support given by various countries in seeking reparation and independence.
GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for taking the Committee’s questions seriously. The Committee would examine the information provided by the delegation closely. She called for additional information in writing on the outcomes of measures and legislation implemented, especially for racially disadvantaged groups. Ms. McDougall concluded by thanking all persons who had contributed to the interesting dialogue.
FESTUS MBANDEKA, Attorney General of Namibia and head of the delegation, said Namibia was committed to the fight against all forms of racial discrimination, and sought to further strengthen implementation of the Convention. It was ensuring that its legal framework fully addressed the provisions of the Convention and racial discrimination. It was calling on all States to fully implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Namibia needed to continue to update its legislation to keep up with international standards. The delegation thanked the Committee for its constructive engagement throughout the session. The issues and questions the Committee had raised had been fully noted, and its concluding observations would inform future legal and policy reform in Namibia. The State’s recent policy innovations aimed to ensure full implementation of the Convention. Namibia still faced challenges in this regard, but was committed to overcoming them. As a country that had experienced atrocities throughout the colonial eras, Namibia was committed to eradicating racial discrimination.
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Chairperson, said the post-colonial period was a difficult period, and addressing racial discrimination was a serious challenge. Ms. Shepherd wished the State party luck in its efforts.
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