Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
NAMIBIANamibia is a multiparty, multiracial democracy with an independent judiciary. President Sam Nujoma, leader of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), won Namibia's first free elections in November 1989. President Nujoma and the SWAPO party received just over 70percent of the vote in the December 1994 Presidential and National Assembly elections, which, despite some irregularities, were generally regarded as free and fair. Although the Constitution limits the President to two terms in office, in May the SWAPO party congress recommended that the Constitution be amended to permit President Nujoma to run for a third term in 1999. The police, supervised by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Namibian Defense Force (NDF), supervised by the Ministry of Defense, share responsibility for internal security. The civilian authorities maintain effective control over the security forces, although members of the police force committed some human rights abuses. Namibia's modern market sector produces most of its wealth, while a traditional subsistence agricultural sector (mainly in the north) supports most of its labor force. The principal exports are diamonds and other minerals, cattle, and fish. Mining, ranching, and fishing--the mainstays of the market sector--are still largely controlled by white Namibians and foreign interests. Government policy, however, is to Namibianize the increasingly important fishing sector, so that more indigenous entrepreneurs are able to participate, and to provide opportunities for black Namibians in the potentially lucrative and labor-intensive tourism industry. Per capita annual gross domestic product is $1,860. There remains, however, a wide disparity between income levels of blacks and whites. Whites have an average per capita income of $14,000 a year and many of the poorest blacks earn just $65 a year. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, although there were problems in several areas. There continued to be credible reports that police beat or otherwise abused criminal suspects. Using an apartheid-era law, the President attempted to ban public demonstrations that did not have prior police approval. Police in the north broke up a private meeting between attorneys and their ethnic minority clients. The ruling party voted to amend the local election law in a manner that favored the ruling party's chances in local elections. In addition, the President and other high government and ruling party officials made repeated, well-publicized verbal attacks on the independent press. The Government rejected a request by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hold hearings in Namibia and still refuses to provide a full accounting of missing detainees who were in SWAPO camps before independence. Namibian defense forces admitted to seven cases of extrajudicial killings since 1994 along the northern border with Angola. Prison conditions remain harsh, and a large court backlog continues to lead to lengthy delays of trials. Although violence against women and children, including rape and child abuse, continue to be serious problems, the President, members of his Cabinet, and parliamentarians have spoken out forcefully on these problems which are receiving significant attention at all levels of government. Women married under customary law, however, continue to experience serious legal and cultural discrimination. Relatively little has been done to elevate women to high-level positions in government and the ruling party despite promises by the President to nominate more women. Racial and ethnic discrimination and glaring disparities--especially in education, health, employment, and working conditions--continued despite sustained efforts by the Government to reduce them. Discrimination against indigenous people persists, and the problem was exacerbated during the year by governmental actions involving Bushmen.