Follow-up visit to Namibia

Published on 19 Aug 2016, 12:04 PM

Human Rights Committee members concerned about discrimination and gender-based violence in Namibia

Meeting with the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare

In a mission organised by the CCPR-Centre together with its Namibian partner, the Legal Assistance Centre, two members of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Sarah Cleveland and Victor Rodriguez-Rescia, as well as the CCPR-Centre’s Programme Manager, Andrea Meraz, visited Namibia from 14 to 18 August 2016.

The main objective of the visit was to follow-up on the Concluding Observations adopted by the Committee as a result of the review of the second periodic report of Namibia in March 2016.

First of all, the CCPR-Centre would like to highlight the openness of the Namibian government in receiving the Delegation and engaging in a constructive dialogue, as well as the robust support from civil society.  The Delegation met with a wide range of stakeholders in charge of the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, including:

  • Minister of Justice
  • Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare
  • Minister of Health
  • Deputy Minister of Home Affairs
  • Deputy Minister of Safety and Security
  • Deputy Inspector General of the Police Unit
  • Ombudsman
  • Chairperson of the Law Reform and Development Commission
  • United Nations representatives in Namibia
  • Members of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs
  • Members of the National Council
  • Civil society and journalists

 

"Strong resistance to LGBTI rights is the main problem we have encountered in the meetings during this visit"

- Sarah Cleveland, Human Rights Committee member

Main issues of concerns for the Human Rights Committee

The dialogue focused on the recommendations selected by the Human Rights Committee for the follow-up procedure, which requires the State party to submit a written report by March 2017.

The issues addressed on the follow-up recommendations are:

Discrimination

(a) The prevalence of de facto racial discrimination and discrimination against indigenous peoples, as well as the significant number of laws remaining from the apartheid era that discriminate on the basis of race;

(b) Discrimination, harassment and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, including cases of so-called “corrective rape” against lesbians; the maintenance of the common law crime of sodomy, and the exclusion of same-sex partnerships from the Combating of Domestic Violence Act (Act No. 4 of 2003);

(c) The continuing discrimination against persons with disabilities, as well as against persons who are HIV-positive.

Torture and ill-treatment

(a) Reports of torture and ill-treatment in police cells and detention facilities, and use of excessive force against suspects;

(b) Reports of violence and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by members of the police;

(c) Reports that members of the police force regularly detain and rape sex workers;

(d) Lack of investigation of cases of torture to which persons arrested after the 1999 secession attempt in the former Caprivi region have been subjected;

(e) The lack of any independent mechanism to investigate acts of torture and ill-treatment.

Violence against women

(a) A relatively high number of women are murdered by their partners, so-called “passion killings”;

(b) The prosecution rate of perpetrators of domestic violence is low and the Combating of Domestic Violence Act (Act No. 4 of 2003) is insufficiently enforceable, since protection orders may be issued by magistrates only, whose number is insufficient and who are accessible only during court hours;

(c) Rape victims frequently withdraw their complaints, inter alia, due to receiving compensation from the perpetrator, succumbing to family pressure, shame or threats;

(d) Women in the workplace underreport sexual harassment due to fear of dismissal;

(e) Gender-based violence protection units have insufficient capacity to shelter victims of violence, and are understaffed

Positive aspects

During the meetings with different stakeholders, the Delegation was informed about important legislative initiatives under development, for example:

  • the Bill on Torture, which comprehensively establishes measures to prevent, investigate and sanction torture according to international standards;
  • the proposed amendments regarding customary marriages and intestate successions, in extensive consultation with traditional leaders and communities;
  • the agreement between the government and the Legal Assistance Centre to work on amendments to the Domestic Violence Act;
  • the study done by the Law Reform and Development Commission to repeal the obsolete laws remaining from the apartheid era.

The Delegation also learned about the trainings for police officers, prison guards, and armed forces on human rights issues, including how to act in cases of domestic violence or trafficking in persons, as well as the awareness raising campaigns on gender based violence.

It is also relevant to highlight the important work being done by the Office of the Ombudsman, including the comprehensive National Human Rights Plan. 

Finally, it is important to mention the existence of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, which is a body composed of focal points from different ministries, Ombudsman and other relevant stakeholders, with the purpose of working on the obligations of Namibia towards the international organs such as the UN treaty bodies.

Issues of concern

The Delegation noticed that most of the authorities were not aware of the existence of the Committee’s recommendations prior to the mission despite the fact that the recommendations were issued in March, and the existence of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, which is responsible for coordinating government measures to implement international human rights recommendations. This shows that in-country follow-up missions are extremely useful to raise the profile of the Human Rights Committee findings.

It was also a matter of concern the fact that international standards on prison conditions such as the Mandela Rules are not widely used in the administration of the Ministry of Safety and Security, in charge of the detention centres. 

Meetings with the Ministry showed also that the right of detainees to have conjugal visits was not respected. In addition Representatives from the Ministry were reluctant to recognise the public health issue of HIV-Aids in prisons as men have sex with men without access to any protection in a country where HIV is very high.

On this topic, one of the biggest challenges that the Delegation encountered was the reluctance of some authorities to accept LGBTI rights.

The Committee’s recommendations on the need to eliminate the crime of sodomy and the need to include same-sex relationships in the Combating of Domestic Violence Act (Act No. 4 of 2003) so as to protect same-sex partners, provoked substantial debate. Authorities met by the Delegation confirmed that Namibia does not prosecute LGBTI people, and maintained that Namibia does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identigy.  But some officials also asserted that Namibian culture, religion and tradition do not permit recognition of LGBTI rights in the laws of Namibia. Some officials also invoked culture, religion and tradition as challenges in amending the law on customary marriages and eliminating harmful traditional practices or gender -based violence.

However positive signs were shown by the Ombudsman and other officials, who clearly agreed with these recommendations.

The Committee is looking forward to receiving the State follow-up report in March 2017 to continue the dialogue.

See our album of the mission here.

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