Maintenance Laws Should Be Much More Stringent

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK The true measure of a humane society is what it does for its weak and vulnerable members. This is the view of the country’s Judge president, Petrus Damaseb, who delivered the keynote address on Monday evening at the 11th African Human Rights Camp in the capital. Legal human rights practitioners from nine African countries are attending the two-week camp. “The greatest challenge facing us in Africa is the grinding poverty and ignorance, which in no small measure is the product of centuries of colonial subjugation. However banal and hackneyed it may sound, we have the responsibility as Africans to improve our lot and to determine our own destiny, as only we as Africans can do so,” said Damaseb. Topics for discussion at the camp include economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of children, women and refugees, NGOs and human rights activism. “As Africans, we must share experiences on the best ways to promote respect for human rights. Enforcement of those rights in the courts is one way, but it is not the only or most effective way. Most incidents of violation of the human rights of our people no longer take place in full public view by agents of law enforcement agencies, but in the privacy of our homes. That makes it much more difficult to detect and punish,” Damaseb said. He further stated that some of the norms and cultures are inimical to the rights of especially women and children. “We therefore need to do more in the area of public education. Emphasis should be placed not only on the substance of the rights, which inhere in us by virtue of our humanity, but also on the means to protect those rights; inculcating especially in the boy-child values, which abhor violence against women and children, and promoting values which extol responsibility and caring. It is not an unachievable ideal,” he said optimistically. Elaborating on the problems women and children suffer because of violence against them, the judge reiterated: “Every day single mothers raise children without the assistance of the fathers; women and children are abused in the home without much being done about it, while there exists a battery of laws to give redress and relief to victims of such human rights violations.” Damaseb suggested that to secure the human rights of single mothers and their children, maintenance laws must be more vigorously enforced. “Our people must be educated to seek protection orders under domestic violence legislation, which most of our countries now have on the Statute book. Violation of human rights takes on a much more subtle form these days. It is the duty of civil society and constitutional watchdogs such as the Ombudsman to be alive to this reality,” the Judge president asserted. In conclusion, Damaseb stated that it remains the duty of civil society to constantly remind elected leaders about the need for clear governmental programmes to achieve the economic well-being of the people. Representatives from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Morocco, Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria and Namibia are attending the workshop that is organized by the Legal Assistance Centre.