United Nations says it can act on mass gravesBy: CHRISTOF MALETSKY
THE United Nations says it will evaluate and refer to a competent authority, which includes the International Criminal Court, any claims of enforced disappearances if there are legitimate grounds for concern.
This is contained in the new report released by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) approached the UN Working Group last year to hold the Namibian Government answerable for the discovery of mass graves it made in September 2008.
The NSHR claimed it had found several mass graves a few kilometres north of the Namibian border in southern Angola and that such graves were of Namibian and Angolan nationals buried between 1999 and 2002.
The human rights group claimed that those buried were rebels and supporters of the Angolan Unita rebel movement who were hunted by soldiers of the Namibian and Angolan armies.
“When there are claims of practices of enforced disappearances which may amount to crimes against humanity, the Working Group will evaluate these claims in the light of the criteria listed in Article 7(1) of the Rome Statute, as interpreted by international and hybrid tribunals and, if appropriate, will refer them to the competent authorities, be they international, regional or domestic,” the UN said in the report.
The Article gives a general definition of the concept of crime against humanity, applicable to all crimes such as enforced disappearance of persons, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, torture, persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender and the crime of apartheid.
When the NSHR submitted a dossier to them the Group said there were reasonable grounds to believe that enforced disappearances have occurred and are still occurring on a massive scale in Namibia.
It wrote to the Namibian Government informing them that Namibia’s de facto state of emergency was allegedly used to create conditions to perpetrate disappearances and that Windhoek must explain what happened.
In its first the communication on June 16 last year the Government requested for more time as the reply needed input from different departments.
The second communication, written three months later on September 24, stated that the Namibian Constitution protected human rights and informed the UN Working Group that there were “enforceable and readily available remedies open to any citizen or resident of Namibia who alleges or feels that any of the rights guaranteed by the Nami-bian Constitution have been violated.
It said individuals can seek redress in civil courts or in criminal courts.
“In criminal cases, individuals can lodge complaints with the Police without any expenses involved. Extra-judicial remedies are available through the Office of the Ombudsman at expenses,” the Government informed the UN Working Group.
The Government also said Police and other law enforcement agencies give serious attention to the crime of enforced or involuntary disappearances through investigations.
However, NSHR executive director Phil ya Nangoloh told The Namibian that the Police had not taken up their offer to visit the sites where they found the mass graves and to investigate the claims.
Government told the UN that Police investigate when they believe that such an act has been committed and that criminal process will be allowed to take its course.
Even if a case is dismissed in a trial, Government said, an aggrieved person can still get an inquest presided over by a judicial officer.
“It is clear therefore that Namibia, as a country founded on the principles of the rule of law and democracy, has more than enough remedies available to aggrieved persons,” Government informed the UN.
The UN Working Group reminded the Namibian Government of its obligations under the declaration which bars States from permitting enforced disappearances and its obligation to investigate any claims of such cases.
This would include the Government forcing people like witnesses to appear before competent authorities, production of relevant documents, making immediate on-site visits, protection against ill treatment and reprisals and conducting thorough and impartial investigations.
NSHR claimed that 40 men and boys aged between 14 and 56 allegedly disappeared soon after Namibian security forces rounded them up in the Kavango Region between November 27 1999 and December 20 1999.
Another group of 18 members of the Kxoe also allegedly disappeared without trace on August 12 2000 soon after they were detained by the First Battalion of the Namibian Defence Force and Special Field Force members.
On August 16 2000 another group of more than 30 Kxoe San villagers allegedly disappeared without trace following sweeps by the Namibian security forces at Chetto, Bwabwata, Omega, Mutjiku and Bagani.
They were allegedly accused of collaborating with Unita and the Caprivi secessionist group.
The NSHR claimed that individual persons allegedly also disappeared in the Kavango and Caprivi regions during that time.
In 2008 the NSHR claimed that they had found gravesites near Oidilona village in the Omulunga area, at Omamwandi village (some 15 kilometres north of the Namibian border), in the bush in the Okakango Kongolo area (10 kilometres north of the Namibian border), in Oluungu forest near Olupale village, in the Odila village area in Angola and one between Ohauwanga and Oshingadu villages.