More than a month after the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, made public his report on the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Namibia, the Namibian government says it is still considering the report and has no official response to the forthright findings contained in the report.
The report was developed after an official visit by the special rapporteur to the country from September 20 – 28, 2012. The report was made public on May 2, 2013.
The Special Rapporteur met with government and indigenous representatives in the capital, Windhoek, as well as with San groups including the Nyae Nyae conservancy area in Tsumkwe; in the Bwabwata National Park in the Caprivi and Kavango regions; and in and around the Etosha National Park. He also met with representatives of the Ovahimba, Ovazemba and other Indigenous Peoples in Opuwo.
Aaron Clase, chief control officer in the office of the prime minister of Namibia working for the division of San development said that the Namibian government was in the process of studying the report and as such could not offer a comment on the special Rapporteur’s findings.
Clase explained that consultation with the different government ministries about the report’s findings would be taken into account and not just the office of the prime minister, which is responsible for Indigenous Peoples concerns.
Clase couldn’t say when a response would be forthcoming except to say, “there will be a response definitely.”
The special rapporteur’s findings, offered a mix of praise and a no holds barred critique of the Namibian government’s response to Indigenous Peoples’ concerns.
Anaya praised the creation of the San Development Division within the Office of the Namibian Prime Minister as a positive step “for tackling some of the issues faced by indigenous and marginalized groups, and appears to have potential for improving the lives of Indigenous Peoples in the country.”
However, he added that the office should review its work, in consultation with the groups that it supports, to ensure an effective response to their needs.
The Special Rapporteur also expressed satisfaction with the high level of attention that Namibia has given to education since its independence and commended the government for its progressive laws and policies regarding mother-tongue and culturally appropriate education.
But Anaya added: “… more needs to be done to address the troublingly educational situation of San and Himba groups especially, whose members continue to lag behind in educational attainment relative to other groups. In this connection, Namibia should work to remove the barriers that are inhibiting the San, Himba and other groups from accessing education, including in relation to school development fees, distances from schools, and bullying faced in schools. Himba people should not be forced to abandon their traditional, semi-nomadic way of life in order to access education, and thus the government should strengthen efforts to provide mobile schools in remote areas.”
Access to land by Indigenous Peoples was another issue raised by the special rapporteur. On one hand Anaya acknowledged the Namibian government’s efforts in entering some innovative arrangements in addressing this issue. On the other hand Anaya didn’t hold back in advising the government to “step up efforts to address the problem of landlessness of San groups and to carry out initiatives to secure for them rights to land and do so, to the extent compatible with the rights of others, in accordance with their historical or traditional land tenure patterns.”
Anaya also touched on the recognition of the traditional authorities and recommended that the state review past decisions denying recognition of traditional authorities and specifically advised that government should confirm the traditional authority of the Khwe San in Caprivi “as a matter of priority.”
Further, allegations of discrimination or abuse by the traditional authorities of the dominant tribes in areas inhabited also by other, smaller tribes should be investigated and actions taken to sanction any mistreatment,” Anaya continued.
Delme Cupido, Indigenous Peoples Rights Programme Manager for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) praised Anaya’s report.
“He had a very good report and he met as many San civil society people (as possible) and people spoke frankly about what the issues are. He covered the issues quite well and I think the report certainly validated a lot of what we have been saying. He can only cover it to the extent that he has solid evidence.”
Cupido said that the establishment of the San development agency in the office of the prime minister of Namibia could indicate a shift “in attitude in government” towards Indigenous Peoples in Namibia.
“All in all he (Anaya) covered the issues quite well. Now it’s really up to government to look at recommendations in the report and act on them and it’s up to civil society to push government to do that,” Cupido said.
The Special Rapporteur will officially present his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland in September.