Namibia: Abusive Public Officials Face Harsh Penalties

20 September 2019

The justice ministry has introduced stricter measures to punish officials who torture members of the public.

Justice minister Sacky Shanghala tabled the prevention and combating of torture bill in the National Assembly on Tuesday, which seeks to criminalise public officials who intentionally subject any person to "severe pain or suffering, whether physically or mentally".

The proposed law was introduced in compliance with regulations of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Namibia is party to.

It seeks to define offences of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, among other things.

In his motivation statement, Shanghala said the proposed legislation would significantly improve Namibia's international standing as a signatory to that convention.

"The bill will allow us to confidently report to the committee against torture next year, and gain international recognition for the comprehensive work done to meet the requirement of the convention," he added.

The minister said the harsh sanctions stem from the right to dignity, protected by Article 8 of the Namibian Constitution.

According to the bill, any official who commits such an offence would be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 15 years.

Shanghala stressed that officials who knowingly permit or tolerate the torture of another person under his or her command could be sent to prison for life.

"An official who is convicted of treating someone in a cruel or even degrading manner will be liable to a fine not exceeding N$15 000," he added.

The proposed law will also be applied in cases were public officials coerce members of the public for the purpose of obtaining information or confessing. In addition, public officials who torture and intimidate any person who has committed a crime or is a suspect of a crime, are liable to prosecution.

"This bill does not apply to members of the public, but only to officials, such as those employed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, and the Ministry of Safety and Security, for example," Shanghala stated.

The minister justified the introduction of the bill by saying there was an insufficient legal framework aimed at addressing this type of conduct [torture] when public authorities are involved. Reference to pain and suffering does not include pain or suffering arising from lawful arrests.

This also applies to police officers, who Shanghala said underwent training through the prevention of torture training manual for police officers launched by the ombudsman in 2016.

Ombudsman John Walters yesterday welcomed the tabling of the bill, saying it should be taken as good news for Namibians after several recommendations to enact the law by the Committee Against Torture.

"It's long-overdue. Namibia is a state party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading Treatment or Punishment. As it stands, torture is not a crime in Namibia per se, and it is neither a common law offence or a statutory offence".

"When a person alleges that they were tortured by an official, the offender can only be charged for attempting to cause grievous bodily harm or attempted murder, but this bill will introduce the offence of torture," he stated.

Walters added that the proposed punishment for the crime would depend on the offence of torture.

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