17 January 2013

Namibia: Transitional Justice Dealt With Flimsily - Academic

THE director of Unam's Human Rights Documentation Centre, John Nakuta, has challenged Namibians to exhaust all remedies to get the State to live up to its human rights obligations towards victims of pre-colonial rights abuses perpetrated by the successive colonial regimes and the liberation movement.

Moreover, he said, the Lubango dungeon saga has hitherto been dealt with as a victim-perpetrator issue, a matter between Swapo and those who languished in the dungeons on allegations that they were apartheid South African spies, while the Namibian State did not get involved at all.

"There is a lack of separation between the ruling party and the State and hence they fall in the trap of saying that it is not a question of national reconciliation because it is a Swapo issue. The State must begin to address transitional justice in Namibia. Namibia must get involved; it must be dealt as a Namibian societal matter," Nakuta said.

So far, he said, transitional justice has been dealt with in a "flimsy" manner because there is still no policy of national reconciliation.

Transitional justice is a set of judicial and non-judicial measures adopted to deal with legacies of human rights abuses, and provides for the recognition of rights of victims and considers that victims have the right to see the perpetrator punished.

It also provides for the right to know the truth and receive reparations.

"Transitional justice is an inalienable right; it is not subject to political will. Victims have the right to know and it is the responsibility of the State," said Nakuta.

Similarly, he said, Namibia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) which state that victims have the right to information, something that is not enjoyed by victims of colonial human rights abuses.

National reconciliation is mentioned only once in official documents - in the preamble of the Namibian Constitution which states that "we shall strive towards national reconciliation".

Sorely lacking too, said Nakuta, are goals or targets to achieve national reconciliation.

"In post-independence Namibia national reconciliation is dealt with in an ad hoc manner, that is some high-profile positions having been given to a few individuals [victims of the Lubango saga]," he said.

Problematic also, he suggested, is that the ruling party at independence said while it is important that justice should be done, it should take a back seat, as peace is more important.

This, Nakuta said, has created an unsustainable "false peace, short-circuiting justice".

"For how long are people going to be silent? We are witnessing executive intolerance regarding transitional justice," Nakuta said, adding that transitional justice is also being neglected by civil society organisations and academia that have so far failed to do any in-depth research into an issue considered to be too controversial.

Breaking the Wall of Silence activist and former Swapo detainee Pauline Dempers added that research also needs to be done in countries where Swapo operated, particularly Angola, "where the bones are scattered" of Namibians who perished at the hands of the liberation movement, suggesting that those human remains of Namibians be returned to the country.

The Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa) democracy index last year rated Namibia as among the most democratic societies in Africa, largely because its key institutions are considered to be generally functioning well and because the rule of law is widely observed.

The index gave Namibia a mean score of slightly more than 5 out of 10.

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