International relations minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah yesterday said Namibia did not vote against the anti-genocide motion last Friday at the United Nations, but against the procedure involved.
Ghana and Australia moved that the motion titled 'Responsibility to Protect and the Prevention of Genocide, War Crimes, Ethnic Cleansing, and Crimes Against Humanity' should be included on the 72nd UN General Assembly's agenda for discussion.
When the issue was put to vote, 112 countries voted in favour, while 21 voted against, and 17 abstained.
Namibia was among those countries which voted against the inclusion of the motion, meant to compel states to uphold the principles and norms which safeguard humanity. The motion is also expected to hold those who have committed crimes against humanity accountable.
In a statement yesterday, Nandi-Ndaitwah said Namibia's decision to oppose the inclusion of the motion on the General Assembly's agenda was a "procedural vote", and that the country was not necessarily against the substance of the motion.
"It was not a vote against the essence of the concept as such. It was a procedural vote," she said.
However, while the minister is using a "procedural" argument to justify the vote, The Namibian understands that the vote against the motion was done in error.
Namibia is part of the Group of 77 (G77) developing countries, the majority of which voted in favour of the motion by agreement.
As part of the G77, Namibia was supposed to vote as a bloc, but The Namibian understands that the official who voted on behalf of the country made a mistake.
The official, The Namibian understands, had been instructed to vote in favour of the motion, although he went on to vote against it.
Namibia's ambassador to the UN, Neville Gertze, declined to confirm whether the vote was done in error or not.
Gertze could also not comment on other claims, such as whether an investigation was done after it was discovered that Namibia had voted wrongly.
He referred The Namibian to the international relations ministry for comment.
Namibia's stance comes at a time when the country is seeking reparations of around N$400 billion from Germany over the 1904-1908 genocide in the country.
The vote also came after an international inquiry was launched last month by the Committee of Parents and the Truth and Justice Committee into the alleged killings, detention and torture of Namibians by the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan), the military wing of Swapo during exile, from 1966 to 1989.
Nandi-Ndaitwah said government fully supported the premise of the "responsibility to protect" motion, and was committed to defending human rights and ending human suffering.
"Namibia, like many other member states, is concerned that this concept could be used to apply intervention by circumventing the UN Security Council, to 'maintain international peace and security'," she stated.
Deputy international relations minister Peya Mushelenga on Monday also said government opposed the motion because it had not been communicated in advance to countries for them to deliberate and submit informed positions.
According to information on the UN's website, the motion in question has been discussed eight times since 2009. Because the motion was carried by a majority on Friday, it will be debated during the 72nd UN General Assembly, and substantive resolutions might be introduced.
Nandi-Ndaitwah said Namibia would also take part in the discussion to "present her position on the issue".
One of the survivors of Swapo's infamous Lubango dungeons in southern Angola, Mihe Gaomab, said government made a grave mistake by voting against the motion as it might backfire and jeopardise Namibia's efforts to demand reparations from Germany.
"It was a very risky decision to make. What if the German government dismisses the negotiations because we voted against the motion? They could probably have abstained from it," he said.
Gaomab said the Lubango dungeons' issue was a national issue, which should be resolved nationally "because it is not that big an issue compared to the genocide case", adding that government could have used the opportunity to advance negotiations with the German government.
"We must stop thinking of ourselves, and start thinking about the bigger picture. Now, the government is removing its own ability to negotiate with the Germans," he stressed.
Namibia's special envoy in the genocide reparations talks, Zed Ngavirue, refused to comment on the controversy surrounding Namibia's handling of the motion, saying it was a matter concerning foreign policy.