Govt defends Kenyan professorarguing for Namibia at world court

Phoebe Okowa

The justice ministry has defended its appointment of Kenyan professor Phoebe Okowa to represent its legal argument at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) today.

Namibia will join 51 other countries in a case regarding the legal implications of Israel’s occupation of Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Justice ministry executive director Gladice Pickering told Desert Radio that Okowa was designated to represent the country because of her experience at the ICJ.

“To say that local counsels were dismissed is perhaps not entirely accurate. We needed to get an expert in public international law and that person has experience at the ICJ. We do not have the person in Namibia meeting both criteria,” she said.

Pickering added that appointing foreign legal counsel is practised around the world and is not limited to Namibia.

She referenced the South African team in the genocide case brought to the court earlier this year.

Pickering noted that Cabinet approved Okowa due to her academic qualifications in public international law, her prior approval by Cabinet to work on a submission at the ICJ that Namibia is making regarding the impact of climate change, as well as her previous appearance at the ICJ.

“She is the first African female person to serve on the international law commission and an expert in her own right,” Pickering said.

Namibia will only have 30 minutes to present its case at The Hague.

The first five minutes will be for introductory political remarks presented by justice minister Yvonne Dausab.

Okowa is expected to present the oral argument for the remainder of the period.

Pickering said there will be members from the international relations ministry, as well as the attorney general’s office who will be present today as a consequence of their contribution to the submissions.


South African Zionist Federation spokesperson Rolene Marks has argued that Namibia’s case might fall flat due to Israel’s withdrawal of troops from Gaza in 2005.

“To say that Israel is occupying Gaza is factually incorrect,” she said.
Speaking to Desert Radio earlier this week, she said the occupation of the West Bank should be settled between the two nations.

In response to Marks, former South West Africa National Union president Usutuaije Maamberua said Gaza has been internationally recognised as an ‘open blood bath’, which should strengthen Namibia’s case.

Al Jazeera and other international news agencies have over the years confirmed that Israel withdrew from Gaza but that the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade since 2007,

Maamberua argued that Namibia’s case will be as strong as South Africa’s case, with the court recognising Israel’s acts of genocide.

He added that there is enough evidence on how Israel is conducting the war and the inhumane way Israel is denying the human rights of the people of Palestine.

Since the proceedings started on Monday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the legitimacy of the case.

Since then, countries including South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Belgium have presented arguments condemning Israeli occupation, deeming it violent and illegal.

Earlier this week, the acting legal adviser for the United States State Department, Richard Visek, said the court should not find that Israel is legally obligated to withdraw from occupied territory.

“Any movement towards Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza requires consideration of Israel’s very real security needs,” he said.

A panel of 15 judges is expected to take about six months to issue a non-binding, advisory opinion on the request, which also asks them to consider the legal status of the occupation and its consequences.

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