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Namibia

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Last updated on 30.10.2020 at 06:18

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Mass #ShutItAllDown protests demand action against rising GBV

Mass #ShutItAllDown protests demand action against rising GBV

Throughout several months this year, there have been a series of abductions and gender-based violence cases which prompted youths and civil society organisations to begin protests calling for government action to address the rising numbers; CSOs call for enactment of Access to Information Bil

Peaceful Assembly

Throughout several months this year, there have been a series of abductions and gender-based violence cases which prompted youths and civil society organisations to begin protests calling for government action to address the rising numbers.

In April 2020, Shannon Darlike Wasserfall,a 22 year old girl, went missing in Windhoek, sparking a campaign on social media to intensify the search for her. Hundreds of users posted, shared and retweeted the hashtag #BringShannonHome on social media, calling for the police to continue investigating the case.

In related incidents that followed, on 16th July 2020, demonstrators took to the streets in Windhoek to peacefully protest against gender-based violence, racism and police brutality in Namibia.

The protesters called for the review of colonial legislation they denounced for violating the rights of the majority of the citizens. There was also a call to reform justice and policing systems to counter cases of police brutality and bring accountability and justice for lives lost through police brutality. They also called for broad and holistic public education on gender-based violence, rape culture and the rights of the members of the LGBT community and other vulnerable groups. Regarding gender-based violence, the protesters petitioned for the amendment of the Rape Act of 2000 to include a sexual offenders’ register. The crowd dispersed peacefully after the protest.

In early October, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Windhoek and other cities across the country for several days after police found what they believed to be Wasserfall’s body in a shallow grave near the town of Walvis Bay on 6th October 2020.

On 10th October 2020, around 400 protesters marched in the capital city under a movement dubbed #ShutItAllDown. The protesters called on the president to declare a state of emergency over the high rates of violence against women and femicide, and also called for training of police officers in handling GBV cases. The protest was however quickly dispersed by security agents using tear gas, rubber bullets and batons.

A day before, the protesters had also marched to the government offices to demand the resignation of the minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare. 

A few days later, on 13th October, the government issued a statement promising to implement measures to address the escalating problem, including establishing a sexual offenders’ register and introducing dedicated courts which will handle sexual and gender-based violence related cases. 

The country’s president, Hage Geingob, also met the protesters on 17th October and affirmed that the country needed to do more to prevent the problem.

According to reports earlier this year, at least 200 cases of domestic violence were being reported monthly, while more than 1,600 rape cases were reported during the 18 months ending in June 2020.

Expression

In early June 2020, Information Minister Peya Mushelenga tabled the Access to Information Bill in parliament, a draft law which he said will be key to ending corruption in the country. If passed, the new law will establish an independent administrative body mandated to ensure proper implementation of access to information legislation. On 28th September 2020, on the International Day for Universal Access to Information, civil society organisations urged the government to pass the bill. In a statement by their chairperson Frederico Links, the Action Coalition emphasised the need for the government to embrace a culture of openness and transparency in its operations, and to implement laws and policies which promote transparency, such as the Public Procurement Act of 2015. 

Association

Chapter 3 of the Constitution upholds the right of association. This right is largely realised, including for trade unions, although the government is sensitive about the expression of political and human rights dissent by civil society and has threatened and harassed CSOs on occasion.

Chapter 3 of the Constitution upholds the right of association. This right is largely realised, including for trade unions, although the government is sensitive about the expression of political and human rights dissent by civil society and has threatened and harassed CSOs on occasion. In 2016, the Vice Chairperson of the Caprivi Concerned Group reportedly received threats and sought asylum in Botswana; there is a history of intimidation towards Caprivi separatists. Trade unions remain close to the ruling party but have developed more critical distance recently.Civil society has expressed concern about the 2012 Combating and Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act, which contains broad and vague provisions that could be used to restrict human rights. Further, the Research, Science and Technology Act, which came into force in 2011, requires a permit for any research, and as this is defined in very broad terms, could potentially constrain advocacy-oriented research. A Civic Organisations Partnership Policy, produced by the government in 2005, was largely rejected by CSOs on the basis that they did not have input in its development.

Peaceful Assembly

Chapter 3 of the Constitution also recognises the freedom of assembly. This is generally upheld, although workers in parts of the public sector deemed essential have no right to take strike action.

Chapter 3 of the Constitution also recognises the freedom of assembly. This is generally upheld, although workers in parts of the public sector deemed essential have no right to take strike action. A spontaneous demonstration in 2014 against the mayor of Windhoek’s attempt to sell state land at far below its market rate to members of his circle attracted 14,000 people and forced the government to act.

Expression

The freedom of expression is recognised in Chapter 3 of the Constitution. Namibia ranks higher on media freedom indices than most African states, and a media ombudsman office has been in existence since 2009 and acts independently of the government.

The freedom of expression is recognised in Chapter 3 of the Constitution. Namibia ranks higher on media freedom indices than most African states, and a media ombudsman office has been in existence since 2009 and acts independently of the government. The state broadcaster depends financially on the government and tend to express government viewpoints, although there are also some programmes where people are given a chance to share other opinions, and the government-funded newspaper New Era also covers critical material.The government occasionally reacts angrily to criticism and makes threats; this may lead to self-censorship. A number of privately-owned newspapers are critical of the government. There are no restrictions on internet access and growing use of social media to express dissent, although limited internet infrastructure remains a challenge.A decade-long ban on government advertising in The Namibian, the leading English language daily newspaper, was lifted in 2011.Defamation remains a criminal offence.There is no access to information law, although civil society has campaigned for this and the government has committed to introducing one. In general, there is a tendency towards secrecy. Under the 2009 Communications Act, state intelligence services can monitor internet usage without requiring judicial approval, while some apartheid-era secrecy laws remain on the books.