UN wants homosexuality legalised in Namibia

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Same-sex advocacy… Demonstrators pictured at Zoo Park in February 2010, taking part in a march in solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and inter-sex communities in Uganda and Malawi.

Windhoek

The United Nations human rights office, in a report released in Windhoek yesterday, called on Namibia to abolish the common law crime of sodomy and include same-sex relationships in the existing Combating of Domestic Violence Act.

The UN’s call is expected to draw condemnation from sections of both the Namibian government and society, as homosexuality remains a largely unaccepted practice among Namibians.

The UN report, presented yesterday by Sarah Cleveland, an independent expert on human rights issues, alleges that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Namibia face discrimination, harassment and violence – including cases of ‘corrective rape’ against lesbians.

It was not immediately clear what the report based its conclusions on, although the UN committee on human rights met with the police, civil society, human rights activists and government officials.

The Namibian constitution is silent on homosexuality, although it is explicit on sodomy, which is illegal and punishable with prison time.

High-ranking government officials, including former president Sam Nujoma, have publicly condemned acts of homosexuality – which they said are un-African and against the principles of Christianity. More than 90 percent of Namibians are Christians.

The UN report says Namibia does not ‘explicitly’ prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

It calls on government to “adopt legislation explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, including the Labour Act (Act No. 11 of 2007), and adopt hate crime legislation punishing homophobic and transphobic violence, and vigorously enforce it.”
Government is further implored to “abolish the common law of sodomy and include same-sex relationships in the Combating of Domestic Violence Act (Act No. 4 of 2003) so as to protect same-sex partners.”

New Era was unable to obtain government comment on the matter last night. The report says there is continuing discrimination against people with disability and those infected with HIV, especially when it comes to employment opportunities. Government is urged to intensify efforts in combating this discrimination.

The UN human rights committee also noted with concern ‘discriminatory stereotypes and deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes’ regarding the role of women in society.

It says women are frequently discriminated against by customary law that, amongst others, allows family members to confiscate properties of deceased men from their widows and children.

“Single mothers are regularly subjected to discrimination and stigmatisation,” it said, adding that the rate of female unemployment is high, while the number of women in positions of power remains relatively low.

Harmful practices against women and girls, such as initiation practices requiring girls to have sex with older men, are criminalised as rape in law. The traditional practice of ‘inheriting’ widows and forced marriages must also be stopped, the committee urged.

The UN committee observed that Namibia has cumbersome procedures required to access legal abortion – forcing women to seek unsafe and clandestine abortion and resulting in increased cases of baby dumping.

The UN further wants Namibia to ensure that perpetrators of torture, brutality and ill-treatment of persons facing prosecution must be dealt with decisively.

Government is urged further to guard against monitoring, surveillance and interception of private communication, saying the practice is illegal and a violation of the right to privacy.

“With respect to LGBT issues, we had a very interesting exchange with the minister of justice who headed a delegation to Geneva in March on this issue,” Cleveland said yesterday.

“The positive thing to be said is that Namibia, although it is has criminal law on the books criminalising sodomy, does not enforce the law and is not prosecuting people doing it.”

“A number of issues were raised as recommendations to the Namibian government, including the provision on torture which provides for training and also for compensation of victims of torture. Here the harder part is in implementation and compliance.”

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