Namibia and EU in dispute over gay rights

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» 31.10.2000 - Gay's legal rights to be discussed in Namibian Parliament 
» 24.10.2000 - Authorities repeat threats against Namibian homosexuals 
» 02.10.2000 - Namibian minister tells police to 'eliminate' gays 

» EU's Strategy Paper for Namibia 2002-05 (with Namibian govt comments) 

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Namibian President Sam Nujoma

«We get along.»

Sam Nujoma about homosexuls in Berlin

afrol News, 28 August - The Namibian government has protested human rights critiques against it formulated by the European Union (EU) as "overplayed and misrepresented." While the EU had lamented attacks on homosexuals, the Namibian government now goes far in guaranteeing the rights of this minority. There were also disagreements over the rights of the judiciary, foreigners and the independent press.

One year ago, Namibian President Sam Nujoma had made international headlines for his hate-rhetoric against the country's homosexuals. In a public speech, he said he had "ordered" the police to imprison and/or deport any gays found. Homosexuality was "against the will of God" he further stated. Namibia's controversial Minister of Homo Affairs, Jerry Ekandjo, went even further. The Minister ordered police officers to "eliminate" gays and lesbians "from the face of Namibia."

Several local and international rights groups protested the attacks, which also provoked concern in the EU and the Dutch Parliament. The EU - which is Namibia's major donor - has repeated its human rights concerns in its recently published 2002-2007 Country Support Strategy Paper. The paper particularly mentions the "pronouncements against minority groups such as, inter alia, the homosexual community."

The Namibian government however felt it necessary to express its "disagreement" with formulations criticising its human rights record "to ensure that a correct picture is presented about Namibia and its policies," an official document reads.

According to the official reaction, Namibia was guaranteeing the rights and protection of "all Namibians in its constitution and has without exception, respected this constitutional provision." To date, there had not been a single case of persecution or exclusion of any minority group "including the so-called sexual minorities."

Namibia, being a democratic state, where freedom of expression was guaranteed and "widely practised," had witnesses "hot debates on a wide range of issues, of which homosexuality is one." The government paper goes on stating that "a great majority of Namibians see the practise of homosexuality to be not only alien to their cultures, but also immoral." It was this view, articulated in the public debate, which had been referred to as "pressure against minority groups" in the Country Strategy document, the government holds.

- Such reference is however in our view a gross misrepresentation since it seems to imply that freedom of expression is only that when it involves expression of views that meet the approval of western countries but inappropriate when the views expressed are contrary to Western values, the government statement says. In Namibia, freedom of expression was "guaranteed for all persons," also the gay community and its opponents.

This issue therefore had been "overplayed and misrepresented in a way that will only serve to misrepresent Namibia to the world."

Interestingly, the government paper goes far in recognising the rights of homosexuals in Namibia, where the legal situation of sexual minorities remains unclear. The government's message that "Namibia guarantees the rights and protection of all Namibians in its constitution" however was very clear, and, given the context, is directed towards the sexual minorities. 

The apparent softening of the government's stance on homosexuals comes after President Nujoma had signalled he was taking the European critiques seriously. In June, on an official visit to Germany, Nujoma met with Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, Germany's most prominent openly homosexual politician. In an interview with the German news agency DPA, the President said he now "got along" with the gay community.

Human rights violations reported
The EU Country Support Strategy Paper also criticised other aspects of Namibia's human rights record over the last years that caused Namibian government protest. The EU noted concern over "criticism by members of Government against the judiciary and foreigners; Government ban of Government purchase and advertisement in an independent newspaper; and Namibia's involvement in conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports of human rights violations and increased budgetary allocation to military expenditure."

Also in the case of the judiciary, which had come under government attack last year, the government paper guaranteed constitutional rights of the organ "to execute their powers without any interference from the other organs." The judiciary could however not expect to operate without being criticised by the people and government officials if it "falls short of the expectation of the people."

The government further was unwilling to accept critiques following its ban on spending public funds to buy or advertise in Namibia's leading independent newspaper, 'The Namibian.' It again guaranteed that media "enjoy unhindered freedoms" in Namibia, which was provided for by the constitution. "However, when media institutions threaten the very foundation of the stability of our nation and unity of our people, we cannot remain passive," the statement defends the heavily criticised move against 'The Namibian'.

Finally, the government defended the necessity of its military interventions in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) and Angola and its temporal increase in military expenditure. It only admitted "unfortunate ... incidents and mistakes" during its strike against the Caprivi secessionist movement. These human rights' abuses were receiving "the attention of the authorities and disciplinary measures are being taken against the individuals involved."

Tranquillised policies
In 2001, Namibia repeatedly occurred in international headlines for its tendencies to limit the human rights widely enjoyed in the country. Tensions built up and donor nations began to question whether democracy would survive in the young country. 

During 2002, however, the government's radical initiatives have been limited and one has started to repair the image damages made last year. Gays and lesbians have been spared more attacks, the judiciary is mostly left in peace, the conflicts in Caprivi, Congo and Angola are finding their peaceful solutions and 'The Namibian' is even profiting from the government purchase ban, as state employees now have to buy the newspaper by themselves.

The reasons behind the softening positions by the government and the President are not well known. Some attribute it to massive pressure from donor nations, especially the EU, others to growing opposition within the country and the ruling party. The popular, humoristic explanation among Namibians however points towards President Nujoma, or "the old man," as they respectfully nickname him. "It seems the doctors changed his medication to something more tranquillising," the standing joke goes.

Sources: Based on EU, press reports and afrol archives

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