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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights at the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council: Report on her mission to Namibia

28 May 2013

Distinguished members of the Human Rights Council,

I have the honour of presenting the report on my mission to Namibia, which I undertook in October last year. I wish to extend my gratitude to the Government of Namibia for the support and cooperation provided.

Since independence in 1990, Namibia has enjoyed political stability and steady economic growth, achieving the status of a middle-income country. Despite a considerable increase in GDP, the poorest sectors of Namibian society have not benefited equally. Namibia remains one of the most unequal countries in the world.

The report acknowledges the complex challenges faced by Namibia however, it stresses the areas in which more should be done to comply with human rights obligations in respect of economic, social and cultural rights. I am particularly concerned that despite significant budgetary investment in public services, quality public services, such as health facilities and schools, are not accessible to a large portion of the population. This is particularly problematic for those living in rural areas and those belonging to marginalized groups.

I welcome the efforts made by the Government to develop strategies to tackle poverty particularly the “Vision 2030” and the Fourth National Development Plan. However, I am concerned that the Government’s implementation of these strategies is not succeeding in reversing the ever widening gap between rich and poor. In my report I have identified implementation gaps in almost all poverty reduction and development strategies.

Despite a positive institutional and legal framework, in Namibia, poverty wears a woman’s face. Women continue to be economically and socially marginalized and they are also disproportionately affected by unemployment, HIV/AIDS and lack of access to land. Unequal access to health services as well as the HIV/AIDS pandemic have played a part in the near doubling of maternal mortality. I believe this to be a tragic and preventable reality and urge the State to take immediate action to ensure that women have access to good quality and affordable health care services, particularly in rural areas.

Limited access to education, health and justice also make women more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. I was particularly alarmed at the practice of forced sterilisation of women who are HIV positive and call on the State to take a strong public stand against this practice and enact concrete measures to actively prevent and protect women against it.

In addition to women, children, persons with disabilities and sex workers are all extremely vulnerable to poverty and face significant challenges in realizing their basic rights. My report highlights the difficulties they face and provides recommendations as to how their situation could be improved.

Education for example, should be a vehicle for empowerment, but in Namibia the unequal distribution of wealth and income is mirrored in educational opportunities and outcomes.

I am also concerned that the recent economic growth is not translating into job opportunities for the majority of the population. The impact of unemployment is also very unequal, disproportionately affecting women, youth and persons with disabilities. I would urge the State to expand opportunities for persons living in poverty to find decent work in the formal labour market, including through vocational guidance and training and skills development opportunities.

In conclusion, I commend the steps taken by the State to date to tackle poverty, and I recognise the compounded challenges it faces in dealing with the legacy of colonial rule. However, I believe that tackling inequality in the country is the key to combating poverty, and in this regard progress since independence has not been quick enough. Unacceptable levels of inequality persist, along the lines of gender, race, region, ethnicity and class. With political will, better policy implementation and coordination along with robust anti-discrimination measures Namibia can achieve these goals.