Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of Namibia
Head of state: Samuel Nujoma
Head of government: Hage Geingob
Capital: Windhoek
Population: 1.8 million
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

Reports continued of "disappearances", torture and intimidation by the security forces in the Caprivi and Kavango provinces. Almost 130 detainees, most of them prisoners of conscience, remained in custody. The government sought to impose restrictions on freedom of expression. Gays and lesbians were harassed and assaulted by the police following inflammatory statements by the authorities.


The Namibian Defence Force (NDF) launched several cross-border operations in support of the Angolan army into territory in southern Angola held by the opposition União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. Large numbers of Angolan refugees continued to flee the conflict to Namibia. In West Caprivi, Namibian police and armed forces reportedly participated in their forcible return to Angola. There were continuing concerns that government plans to relocate thousands of refugees to rural areas would disrupt marginalized indigenous ethnic San communities.

Violations on the border with Angola

NDF troops were responsible for human rights violations in Caprivi and Kavango provinces bordering Angola. Many inhabitants fled the area to neighbouring Botswana, particularly members of the Kxoe San community. Soldiers reportedly threatened them, and assaulted and detained them for violating a ban on their traditional livelihoods of collecting firewood, grass and wild-growing foodstuffs. The military denied harassing them and said the restrictions on their movements were for their own protection.

  • In July, a High Court application was filed for the release of 15 members of a Kxoe San community from Mutc'iku in West Caprivi. The 15 "disappeared" after they were arrested by the Namibian security forces in August 2000 on suspicion of collaborating with UNITA insurgents. The military told the court that they had escaped custody to Angola, despite earlier denials by both military and police that they had ever been in custody. Police officials said in court that they had only learned of the arrests and alleged escapes in August 2001. Evidence before the court raised serious doubts about the men's whereabouts. One detainee, Sandre Dikoro, had sent a note to his wife asking for cigarettes from a military detention centre six days after he was said to have escaped. In October a soldier told the court that he had seen another detainee in a detention centre some days after it was alleged he had escaped. In December, the court ruled that it could not be proved that the 15 were still in government hands and dismissed the application.
  • Also in July, the NDF arrested five Kxoe San men on suspicion of hiding arms on an island in the Kavango river. Soldiers shot dead one of the men – Hans Dikuwa – near Bagani Military Base. The military said he was shot while trying to escape. A military autopsy concluded that he died from drowning. Eyewitnesses, however, alleged he was extrajudicially executed by soldiers. In September, the four remaining detainees were released on bail. They said that for 10 days soldiers had tortured them, including by forcing them to dig their own graves and lie in them, then firing rifles near their heads.
Delay in trial of Caprivi detainees

By the end of 2001, most of a group of 128 detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years. They were among more than 300 people arrested following an attack in 1999 on a military base in northeastern Caprivi by members of an armed separatist group. At least 70 appeared to be prisoners of conscience. The 128 faced more than 200 charges ranging from murder and attempted murder to unauthorized crossing of the border. Investigations by the government into allegations that most had been tortured failed to lead to any prosecutions in 2001; as a result, several police officers named in torture allegations remained on active duty. Some of the 128 detainees alleged that police threatened and ill-treated them, and in one case offered a bribe, when taking them outside the prison in connection with continuing police investigations into the charges against them. In December, the High Court ordered that legal aid be provided for the 128 accused. The government's appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling had not been heard by the end of 2001.

Freedom of expression

There were moves to restrict freedom of expression. Senior officials censured the press and non-governmental organizations, withdrawing state advertising from The Namibian newspaper after it criticized government policies and asking the civil service not to purchase the paper.

In September, the government introduced a draft Defence bill in the National Assembly that contained vague, broad and possibly unconstitutional infringements on the freedom of the press in the name of protecting national security. The bill would make the disclosure of "unauthorized information" deemed likely to endanger national security punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. It would also permit the military to seize journalists' photographs, film, negatives, sketches, plans, models or notes taken of any area under military control. By the end of 2001, the bill had not been debated.

Gays and lesbians

In March, addressing students at the University of Namibia in Windhoek, President Nujoma said police must arrest, imprison and deport homosexuals. This followed other statements that the government would deport foreign gays and lesbians. Homosexuality is not a criminal offence in law and homosexual acts were last prosecuted in the late 1980s as an "unnatural sex crime" under common law.

In May, officers of the paramilitary Special Field Force detained and assaulted Namibian men suspected of being gay. The government subsequently announced that disciplinary action would be instituted against officers involved in harassment.

Rule of law

Senior officials criticized the judiciary after rulings unfavourable to the government. In February the High Court retrospectively found the Minister of Home Affairs, Jerry Ekandjo, in contempt of court after the authorities had ignored a High Court order in October 2000 to release detainee José Sikunda. The police only released him in November 2000 when the High Court warned it would hold the Minister in contempt.

AI country reports/visits


AI delegates visited Namibia in November and were granted access to prisons in Windhoek and Grootfontein.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.