- Human rights groups in Namibia are alarmed at what they call the "Zimbabweanisation" of their so far democratic institution. Especially the independence of the national judiciary is threatened, they claim, pointing to "intimidation of independence-minded Namibian judicial officers, most of whom are white."
The National Society for Human Rights of Namibia (NSHR) today in a press release said it was "alarmed at insidious but systemic Zimbabweanisation of not only the socio-economic and political, but also judicial, system in this country." The group was observing an "ongoing erosion of judicial independence and circumvention of its effectives."
- Judicial independence means that judges and magistrates can decide cases before them without fear or favour, based on the law and the facts of a particular case, NSHR executive director Phil ya Nangoloh reminded Namibian authorities today. "With an independent judiciary, cases will be decided on their merits. All litigants know that their case will be decided according to the law and the facts, not the vagaries of shifting political currents or the clamour of partisan politicians," Mr ya Nangoloh added.
The Namibian human rights body claims that these standards of judicial independence now are threatened by the 14-year-old government of President Sam Nujoma and his SWAPO party, who have totally dominated Namibian politics ever since independence in 1990. President Nujoma repeatedly has expressed his admiration of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and may be set to change the Namibian constitution to allow for his fourth presidential term.
The NSHR is expressing "grave concern" at verbal attacks directed by high-ranking Namibian government and ruling SWAPO party officials at what they term "white" and "foreign" judges in general and in particular Justice Elton Hoff following his 23 February unpopular ruling in alleged Caprivi secessionist case.
The case of the Caprivi secessionists has obtained much attention in Namibia and large parts of the public were shocked at Justice Hoff's dismissal of the case because the accused had been illegally detained outside Namibia. "A truly independent judicial is there to protect the rights of those promoting unpopular views," the human rights group notes, "including those representing minority viewpoints or factions and accused of serious crimes."
The group further denounced what it called the "rancorous victimisation and intimidation against Magistrate Walter Mostert" in 2001. Magistrate Mostert, a white Namibian citizen, was "unconstitutionally transferred" from his permanent post, according to the NSHR. After complaining, the "independent-minded judicial officer" has been denied his annual leave and suspended.
Through an investigation, NSHR said it had "reliably established that ever since he challenged the unconstitutionality of his transfer, Magistrate Mostert is faced with several vindictive omissions or commissions from certain officials of Ministry of Justice."
In 2003, the Namibian Parliament had enacted new legislation to give effect to orders of transferring unpopular judicial officers. Mr ya Nangoloh holds that this new legislation "is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed by Parliament in the history of our country’s constitutional order, in so as judicial independence is concerned." The act, according to the NSHR leader, "promotes executive impunity and entrenches executive interference in both the decisional and institutional independence of the judiciary."
- The systematic erosion of judicial independence in Namibia has alibis in Zimbabwe, the Namibian group says in its statement. Since the prime targets of Zimbabwean-style land grab drive in Namibia were white farmers, it was logical to conclude that the Namibian government would also target primarily white Namibian judges, magistrates, prosecutors and lawyers as "allies of white farmers," the group holds. Hence, a Zimbabwe-style divide and rule strategy was now being employed "to divide the judiciary along racial lines."
Several other parallels could also be drawn between the situation in Namibia and that in Zimbabwe since 2000, when President Mugabe's land reform campaign started in earnest, the NSHR warns. Like President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, the Namibian government had repeatedly demonstrated its disdain for judicial independence. "This is witnessed by the numerous verbal attacks as well defamation and intimidation of judges who deliver politically unpopular rulings," the group says.
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