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Statement at the end of visit to Namibia by Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte – first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older

UN House, Windhoek, Monday, 13 March 2017

Members of the Press,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official mission to Namibia, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 2 to 13 March 2016.

Allow me at the outset to thank the Government of Namibia for inviting me and for the outstanding support extended to me in the preparation and in the conduct of this visit. I very much appreciate the cooperative approach and the openness all actors displayed during my stay in the country.

I also would like to thank the office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Namibia for their considerable efforts to coordinate this visit as well as for all the support which I benefited in order to ensure the success of my mission. 

During my visit, I met various government authorities, non-governmental organisations, representatives of academy and universities, and I also met the Ombudsman.

Mostly - I had the opportunity to meet with the Old Age persons themselves and the organisations representing them in Windhoek, Katutura, Okahandja, as well as in Rundu, Silikunga, Zone and Mpungu in the Regions of Kavango East and West. It was a huge privilege; and a profoundly inspiring, motivating and stimulating experience altogether.

I have also visited a good number of Old Age Homes and met with the community and representatives of the Local Authority.

I have also met with (Faith-based Organisations) representatives and various Civil Society Organisations and I am much impressed by the dedication and the indefectible interest of the social workers and volunteers (many of whom are older persons) who work for the realisation of the Rights of Old Age Persons.

Please allow me to convey my deep appreciation to all who took the time to meet with me.

I am here to share with you today some preliminary and I must say very provisional remarks on some of the issues that, along with others, will be explored in more detail in my comprehensive report to the United Nations Human Rights Council which I will present in September 2017.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by commending the Government for its political determination and vision on how to improve the lives of all Namibians by 2030 and to protect their human rights. I urge the Government to deliver on its promises.

This commitment is also demonstrated by the efforts to elaborate a comprehensive national policy on the rights, care and protection of older people. A dedicated policy on older persons is key to ensuring improved protection of their rights, and I call on the Government to deploy every effort possible to finalize and put into motion this national policy. I feel my visit and the dialogue with the Government was very timely in this regard, as this was an opportunity for me to emphasize that any policy on older persons has to adopt a human rights-based approach. A human rights-based approach places the individual and his/her rights at the centre. The existing international human rights framework, notably the United Nations principles on older persons alongside the core human rights instruments should guide the Government’s efforts in this regard.

I welcome the establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights. This was an important first step to ensure that a human rights-based approach is mainstreamed into all activities. From my own experience in the Latin American context, I know how crucial it is to have of an independent inter-ministerial coordination mechanism which could also greatly facilitate the implementation of a national policy or action plan. By ensuring a multidisciplinary approach to ageing, this will contribute to improving the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in the country.

Another prerequisite for efficient policy design is the availability of data and analysis. The base-line study report on human rights in Namibia conducted in 2013 by the Ombudsman is an excellent starting point, but now requires adequate follow-up. A second study would allow to measure the impact of the steps taken. While I note that statistics are disaggregated by age, I would encourage to further strengthen the specific focus on older persons in the next study and to further disaggregate the data in order to reflect the extreme heterogeneity of the particular age group of those 60 years and older.

Let me explain, why I consider it so crucial in the Namibian context to elaborate a comprehensive policy on older persons, particularly since it could be argued that the proportion of older persons has remained somehow constant at around 7 per cent since independence. While it is true that ageing in Namibia is a phenomenon that is just beginning to take shape, it is important to understand that the projected growth rate of the older population in sub-Saharan Africa in general is expected to be faster than that experienced by any other region since 1950. This means that the challenges associated with an ageing society are not a distant phenomenon. It will result in immense pressure on the care system as a growing number of older persons will be living with chronic diseases and disability.

Before independence in 1990, more than 60 per cent of Namibia’s population lived in rural areas and most families practiced traditional ways of living. The life expectancy was low compared to the current one. With improvement in services and improved access, a high number of young people migrated to urban areas in search of these services and for employment opportunities.

Accelerated levels of urbanization, together with Namibia’s low population density, have the potential to erode the traditional family care system. This will require further investment by the Government in health and care infrastructure to provide alternatives to the older persons in rural areas.

I note that the Aged Persons Act, Act No. 81 of 1967 provides for the protection and welfare of certain aged and debilitated persons. I also note that care can no longer be considered a family matter. I therefore call on the Government to step up its effort to revise the Aged Persons Act in order to fully provide for the rights, protection, care and welfare of older people. I was pleased to learn that a consultative approach has been taken and that the draft bill was in fact discussed at at national consultative conference for older persons organised by the Directorate of Developmental Social Welfare Services of the Ministry of Health and Social Services in collaboration with the National Council for the Older People, where older persons themselves were heard.

Namibia has come a long way since it gained independence only 27 years ago. It has since enjoyed political stability and steady economic growth and is ranked as an upper middle-income country. We owe recognition to the Namibia’s achievements.

Does this mean that the country does not face any challenges?

Despite all the efforts, Namibia continues to be the most unequal country in the world. While I acknowledge that poverty levels have been brought down significantly since independence, they remain high for certain parts of the population and certain regions of the country. I am also fully aware that some of the inequalities that persist are the legacy of colonial rule and that attitudes do not change overnight. This does not mean that the existing disparities in income and land distribution are acceptable, and I have to insist that more can and needs to be done to fight old age poverty.

The launching of the Action Plan towards Prosperity for All, the so-called Harambee Prosperity Plan 2016/17 – 2019/20, has a great potential to foster enjoyment by older persons of their rights as it specifically refers to the social protection for older persons and addresses key areas such as hunger, poverty, and housing.

Namibia has a comprehensive social protection system that plays a critical role in its economy and society. I also recognize that there is a significant legal framework and a range of institutions, from public sector departments to public agencies and private sector firms. I also note that there are extensive public private partnerships (including payment agents, banks and NamPost) to deliver services.

While the establishment and expansion of an extensive system of social grants is a significant achievement and example to follow, the universal non-contributory old age grant in many households constitutes the only income as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I acknowledge the huge positive impact of the old age grant to reducing poverty levels, while it is important to ensure that earmarked assistance reaches its intended beneficiaries.

I was surprised to learn that the Government has not implemented its plans with regard to the basic income grant, in spite of the fact that the pilot project in the Otjivero settlement has had such a positive impact in reducing poverty, improving access to health and education, diminishing crime and increasing social cohesion. I hope the Government will continue to study the viability of extending a Basic Income Grant throughout the country.

There are serious concerns about violence against, abuse and maltreatment of older persons and in particular older women in Namibia. The Government of Namibia recognizes that Gender-based Violence (GBV) is a serious concern and has launched a National Media Campaign on Zero Tolerance for Gender-Based Violence to raise awareness and to foster the prevention, detection and reporting of such cases.

There is however too little discussion about the incidence of violence against and abuse of older persons in Namibia, given that it is estimated that around 4 to 6 per cent of older persons have experienced some form of maltreatment at home.

One in ten people who apply for a protection order are over the age of fifty. Poverty, inequality, substance abuse are contributing factors, but also entrenched attitudes including about corporal punishment. The government has an obligation to tackle this as a matter of priority.

Another concern seems to be that social grants of older persons are often abused and used to meet young people’s needs, while the pensioners are left to endure social isolation and economic deprivation. There is a need for urgent further action in this regard to protect older persons.

About 74 per cent of the Namibian households cannot afford conventional housing and only 57 per cent of urban households have access to sanitation facilities. The ongoing public housing programme will need to be completed with better urban infrastructure development programmes. While the Government recognizes the existing challenges with regard to access to land, the reform does not seem to have been effective.

Before closing, I would like to assure you that I heard the calls for technical cooperation and capacity building. The international community has indeed an important role to play in complementing and supporting your efforts to address the challenges of an ageing society and in particular in the fight of old age poverty. I will do my utmost to encourage the international community to continue its cooperation with Namibia, including through financial and technical support.

As I have observed at the beginning, my remarks today are of a preliminary nature and do certainly not cover all issues in a comprehensive manner. I will further analyze the information received in connection with my visit and elaborate on my findings in my report to the Human Rights Council.

I would like to reaffirm my commitment to continue the dialogue with the Government of Namibia and that I look forward to working with the Government in a spirit of cooperation on ensuring that older persons in Namibia can fully enjoy their human rights.

END