New protests against attacks on Namibian gays

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Namibian President Sam Nujoma

«Police are ordered to arrest you, and deport you and imprison you»

Sam Nujoma, 30 March - Today, the renown human rights group Amnesty International threw in its lot to the critics on Namibian President Sam Nujoma's announced purges against gays and lesbians. Amnesty's concern follows a protest from the Namibian human rights group, the Legal Assistance Centre. 

Amnesty International today made a statement expressing its concern "that recent statements made by President Sam Nujoma of Namibia may lead to the persecution of individuals identified as lesbian or gay and to further attacks on human rights groups advocating support for lesbian and gay rights."

The group's Africa Program Director, Andrew Anderson, stated "the Government of Namibia is obliged to fully protect the rights of all its people, includings gays and lesbians. Public officials must not incite discrimination, hostility or violence against members of sexual minorities." 

President Nujoma has frequently described lesbians and gays as "unnatural" and against the will of God. On 19 March, he told University of Namibia students that "The Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality, lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you, and deport you and imprison you." Members of Nujoma's cabinet have made similar statements that homosexuals should be "eliminated" from Namibian society.

Amnesty International says it believes that the vilification and persecution of persons for their sexuality is a violation of their fundamental human rights. "Amnesty International considers those imprisoned for their sexual orientation, or for the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression and assembly, to be prisoners of conscience," added Andrew Anderson.

Earlier, the local human rights group, the Legal Assistance Centre, had protested against Nujoma's statements. The group's director, Clement Daniels, said he "deeply regrets the unfortunate and irresponsible statements" issued by the Namibian president. 

- The President is highly regarded by the majority of Namibians and should use his status to foster a culture of reconciliation, care and tolerance for differences, said Daniels. "He should not use his position to instigate hate and attacks on gays and lesbians or other minorities." 

The Legal Assistance Centre also disputed the legal basis of Nujoma's announced pruges. "The President's interpretation of the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians is obviously erroneous, since the Namibian Constitution protects the rights and dignity of all persons in Namibia," said Daniels. 

- There are no specific laws allowing for the detention and deportation of gays and lesbians and his statements are therefore in conflict with articles 7, 10, 11, 21(g), (h) and (i) of the Constitution, Daniels told the press. "Our constitution protects the above rights of all persons and all persons are equal before the law, regardless of their sexual orientation." 

The Namibian Legal Assistance Centre called on the President and the police "to protect and uphold the human rights of all persons in Namibia, irrespective of their sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social and economic status, and to uphold the rule of law." 

Nujoma's anti-gay statements have caused international headlines, presenting the human rights situation in Namibia in a negative way. Amnesty's protests is due to provoke a closer focus on the human rights situation in the country, which at a broader perspective seems to be deteriotating at small but persistant steps. Recent attacks on the independent press and government calls to citizens to take law into their own hands add to the picture of the announced purges against gays and lesbians.

Sources: Based on Amnesty, Legal Ass. Centre and afrol archives

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