Ombudsman to hold hearings on racial discrimination

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Selma Ikela
Windhoek

The ombudsman will initiate public hearings in the coming two months towards research to ascertain whether racism and racial discrimination are still prevalent in the country.

The overall purpose of the hearings, which will be held in June and July in selected regions, is to assist the ombudsman in making proposals on how to address the issue either through new legislation or amending existing legislation, as well as to find effective ways to increase public awareness of racism/racial discrimination or tribalism and discrimination in general.

Ombudsman Advocate John Walters told a media briefing this week that legislation alone is not enough to prevent and combat racism, racial discrimination or tribalism.

“We should look at new ways to address the problem – measures to counter racism on social media, adoption of a victim-oriented approach as a tool to eliminate racism and racial discrimination, measures to ensure equality in the field of employment, improvement in the administration of justice, and developing methodologies for teaching people to unlearn old patterns in order to learn and create a new culture of a multiracial democracy. However, changing entrenched patterns of behaviour is not always easy, but the media can help us through assistance in public awareness-raising campaigns,” stated the ombudsman.

Advocate Walters said the hearings would be held in Windhoek and Kharas, Omaheke, Otjozondjupa, Kunene and Zambezi regions.

He chose these regions to give indigenous people an opportunity to share their experiences of discrimination and tribalism.

He said a formal hearing would be held from June 6 – 9 in Windhoek during which a number of invited, representative organisations would make presentations to the assembled panel. He called on members of the public to make written submissions on their input and understanding of the issue.

He said that over the past three years the prosecutor general received 19 police dockets relating to racial discrimination for decision to prosecute or not. “Only six cases are before court for trial,” added Walters.

Law professor and human rights defender Nico Horn said the reason why there are only six cases in court is because the court’s early interpretation of the act was very narrow. Horn said even if one makes a racist comment that is intended to lead to a discussion, one cannot say it is racism.

He said the court’s interpretation of what is in the public domain (racists comments made in public) is also narrow.

He said in the case of racist comments made in a room with a few people, the court would say it’s not in public, as there needs to be an audience.

Horn said unfortunately the prosecutor general did not appeal the cases to get a Supreme Court judgement after the High Court judgements.
Hence, it is difficult to prosecute someone on racial discrimination.

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