The Namibian government has made its position known to a special United Nations (UN) committee which has strongly called for the country to abolish the common-law crime of sodomy and include same-sex relationships in the existing Combating of Domestic Violence Act, among other things. The committee also highlighted continuing discrimination against people with disability and those infected with HIV, especially when it comes to employment opportunities as well as ‘discriminatory stereotypes and deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes’ regarding the role of women in society. The UN committee observed that Namibia has cumbersome procedures required to access legal abortion – forcing women to seek unsafe and clandestine abortion, resulting in increased cases of baby dumping. The UN further wants Namibia to ensure that perpetrators of torture, brutality and ill-treatment of persons be dealt with decisively in courts of law.
Responding to these concerns the government acknowledged that under the Namibian Constitution, international laws binding on the country are automatically part of its laws. The response was part of the government’s reaction to the concerns of the UN Human Rights Committee in charge of the full implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Namibia ratified.
“Since Namibia ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Protocols, they form part of Namibian law and the courts are obliged to adhere thereto,” the responses read.
It is against this background that those accused in the Caprivi treason trial case received legal aid because the ICCPR required Namibia to give free legal assistance to persons accused of crimes in cases where the interest of justice require legal representation and the accused do not have the means to pay for it. The government through the Ministry of Justice indicated that, in compliance with the recommendations to develop action plans against racism and racial discrimination, the Ombudsman initiated the development of a National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP).
“One of the seven themes of the NHRAP is the right not to be discriminated against. The baseline study and consultative workshops revealed that the groups most likely to be victims of racism and discrimination are people with disabilities, indigenous people, women and LGBTI persons,” the responses read.
“Since 1990, Namibia has moved away from a culture of discrimination towards a culture of rights. The Constitution gives all people in Namibia the right to equality and the right to protection against discrimination.”
“The right to equality means that employees living with HIV/AIDS may not be treated any differently from employees not living with HIV/AIDS. This applies to both the public and private sectors.”
They further highlighted that persons with disabilities are, in principle, able to use the law to protect and pursue interests on an equal basis with others.
The government noted that abortions are allowed only when continuing the pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life or constitute a serious threat to her physical or mental health, or there must be a serious risk to the foetus when it is alleged to have been conceived in consequence of unlawful carnal intercourse, rape or incest.
“Namibian National Language Policy is in place and calls for the promotion of all local languages in Namibia. As an extension to this policy the government in collaboration with stakeholders continues to translate all essential government services in the local languages in order to enhance service delivery.”
It was indicated that: “The government through the Ministry of Land Reform has been committed to ensure that all previously disadvantaged and landless Namibians, irrespective of their status in the society, are catered for through the land reform programme in order to correct imbalance of land ownership created by the apartheid regime.”
• This report was first published in New Era Weekend.