Indigenous rights still not secured in NamibiaBy: CATHERINE SASMAN
THE Namibian government has been criticised for its reluctance to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, which would put into practice the rights of indigenous and tribal people.
The indigenous and tribal people’s convention promotes these groups’ social, cultural and economic conditions, and forces governments to take responsibility of developing, with the participation of these groups, laws to protect their rights.
Namibia has committed itself to drafting a white paper on the rights of indigenous people, and has voted in favour of and support of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.
Ombudsman John Walters yesterday said because Namibia has ratified core international and continental human rights instruments, these instruments bind the State in its dealings with all citizens, including indigenous peoples.
But these instruments are not enforceable, and Namibia’s two groups considered ‘indigenous’, the San and Himba, still remain on the fringes regarding access to public services and recognition of their basic human rights.
In response, the Office of the Ombudsman has developed guide to indigenous people’s rights in Namibia that looks at the obligations the country has towards these groups, based on the international legal instruments ratified by the Namibian state.
The guidebook evaluates how Namibia respects and implements these obligations at the domestic level, and seeks to provide State and non-State institutions in charge of public services to enhance the human rights situation of indigenous communities.
Government has implemented a resettlement and conservancy programme to allow the San access to land. A proposal was made that the San be given communal land.
Another government programme, according to the guidebook, is a ‘back to school and stay at school for San children’ programme, as well as the introduction of early childhood development initiatives.
Government has similarly given directives to all ministries and regional authorities to apply affirmative action principles to employ more San people. One idea mooted was the introduction of a quota system to ensure that the San are included in the mainstream job market.
The government has also introduced a feeding programme that is supposed to alleviate food insecurity among the San.
But the chairperson of the Namibia San Council, Petrus Doëseb, said the San are suffering “untold discrimination” at the hands of other Namibians.
He said San communities still struggle to get access to schools and health facilities, they are exploited on farms where many work, their conservancy areas are being invaded by other groups, and they are not recognised in decision-making.
Damningly, he said, government efforts to uplift marginal communities are often undermined by the discriminatory attitudes of public servants.
It was found that the San community is particularly vulnerable to bonded labour, trafficking, hazardous work and child labour.
Indigenous women and children are often the victims of discrimination.
“We demand to be consulted and be treated equally,” Doëseb said, adding that any intervention programmes should be done in consultation with the affected communities.
Professor Nico Horn of the law faculty at Unam added that government officials often confuse giving information to communities with consultation, stressing the urgent need for the government to commit itself to a process of dialogue with these communities.
There are an estimated 40 000 to 80 000 people who count themselves among the indigenous communities of Namibia.