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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Namibia

Namibia rights record

24 February 2016

GENEVA (24 February 2016) - The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Namibia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Sabine Böhlke-Möller, Permanent Representative of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introducing the report, stated that during the past 26 years, Namibia had established a good track record of political stability, prudent macroeconomic management, moderate economic growth and natural resource conservation.  The economic growth, however, had not yet generated enough jobs.  Namibia saw the Covenant as the cornerstone for the advancement of many other human rights.  The protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights parallel to the protection of civil and political rights had given rise to the right to development, which had brought together those two categories of rights.  Inclusive social development, environmental sustainability, inclusive economic development, and peace and security were goals that the Namibian Government wanted to achieve.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts expressed appreciation for the path Namibia had crossed since independence in 1990, but they also raised a number of questions.  Those included the lack of officially recognized indigenous peoples, who were rather referred to as “marginalized communities”, land rights, including for women, and the redistribution of land.  More information was sought on free education provided by the Government, vocational training and the existence of harmful practices, including female genital mutilation.  The provision of health care in rural and distant areas was also discussed.  Experts wanted to know more about steps taken by the authorities to combat poverty and the high level of inequality in the country.  Labour rights, including the right to organize and strike, were discussed, as was sexual education, the fight against HIV/AIDS and the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
In concluding remarks, Nicolaas Jan Schrijever, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Namibia, said that the replies to most of the questions were very relevant, while a number of questions remained outstanding.  The dialogue was a useful exercise, and it was hoped it would not take 17 years to discuss Namibia’s follow-up report. 
Ms. Böhlke-Möller thanked the Committee Members for their constructive contributions.  Those questions that the delegation had not been able to answer would be answered in writing shortly.  Namibia was looking forward to receiving the concluding observations, which would be distributed to the line Ministries. 
Waleed Sadi, Committee Chairperson, said that the dialogue had been a learning process for the delegation.  It was hoped that the next time the Committee saw the Namibian delegation, the delegation would provide more concrete results of what had been done regarding health, poverty, housing, etc.
The delegation of Namibia included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, the Ministry of Land Reform, the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, and the Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet today at 3 p.m. to start considering the sixth periodic report of Canada (E/C/12/CAN/6).
The initial report of Namibia is available here: E/C.12/NAM/1
Presentation of the Report
SABINE BÖHLKE-MÖLLER, Permanent Representative of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Namibia had ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 22 years earlier.  The Ministry of Justice had compiled the initial report with input from line Ministries in consultation with an umbrella organization for non-governmental organizations in Namibia, in the process through which multiple challenges had been experienced.  The Committee was asked to take into account the fact that not all Ministries were represented by experts in today’s meeting, which was the case for various reasons, including budgetary constraints and competing priorities.  Namibia had been reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism in January 2016 and would be reviewed by the Human Rights Committee on 7 March. 
During the past 26 years, Namibia had established a good track record of political stability, prudent macroeconomic management, moderate economic growth and natural resource conservation.  The economic growth had not generated enough jobs as the structure of economic production and trade had remained essentially unchanged.  The country continued to experience prolonged drought due to climate change, and, as a result, Government efforts to address the interconnected problems of poverty and inequality in the country had become even more difficult and challenging.
Namibia saw the Covenant as the cornerstone for the advancement of many other human rights.  The protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights parallel to the protection of civil and political rights had given rise to the right to development, which had brought together those two categories of rights.  The elevation of one category above the other created an imbalance, which gave rise to many other problems, to the extent witnessed in the world today.  Namibia was convinced that civil and political rights without the effective protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights would not bring about the desired outcomes anticipated by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  An inclusive social development, environmental sustainability, economic development and peace and security were goals that the Namibian Government wanted to achieve and maintain.
Questions by Experts
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Namibia, noted that Namibia’s initial report had been due in 1997.  Unlike civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights were not yet explicitly recognized in Namibia’s Constitution.  Were they recognized as fundamental and legally binding human rights?
He asked about the creation of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.  The current office of the Ombudsman did not meet those criteria.
The Constitution and other laws did not refer to indigenous peoples as such; rather, they were referred to as “marginalized communities”.  Did Namibia acknowledge the evolution of international human rights law when it came to the rights of indigenous peoples?
The Expert noted that homosexuality was a crime in Namibia, and asked the delegation to comment on this.
Namibia reportedly was the country with most inequalities in the world.  What factors could be behind such a high level of inequality in the country?
A question was asked about the cost of education, as it appeared that primary education in some regions was neither free nor compulsory.
Another Expert inquired whether or not the court decision on legal aid was regularly applied in the State party.  What was being done to increase the awareness of those working in the legal system?
If the Constitution, for example, recognized the right of property for everyone, and according to traditional law, women were excluded from that right, how was that problem resolved?
Access to land for indigenous groups was brought up by an Expert, who wanted to know what legal protection there was for indigenous peoples occupying such lands.
The San were listed as a beneficiary group of the National Resettlement Policy, but not enough seemed to have been done in that regard.  Could more information be provided?
Were specific legislative pieces envisioned for each ground for discrimination, or was there a plan to have one comprehensive law covering all grounds for discrimination?
What was the delegation’s assessment of the structural difficulties faced by women in the fulfilment of their rights?
More information was asked on the evolution of budgets for housing and education.  
Another Expert asked about the status and composition of the committee which prepared reports to human rights treaty bodies.
Were the provisions of Article 95 of the Constitution justiciable, asked the Expert.
There seemed to be a certain division between customary justice and state justice.  To what extent did the questions of marriage belong to customary justice?
Another Expert raised the issue of the South African Development Community (SADC), and the illegal suspension of its tribunal.  Was Namibia ready to address all the wrongs done to the members of the SADC, in a clear breach of its principles? 
Most economic, social and cultural rights were reported to be considered as principles rather than enforceable rights, noted an Expert.  Were constitutional reforms previsioned to bring those rights to the same level as political and civil rights?
If indigenous peoples were recognized as such, that would require prior consultation and free and informed consent.  What was the Government’s policy in that regard?
Namibia had one of the highest HIV rates in Africa.  Was there a connection with the criminalization of sodomy?
Inequality had not decreased since independence in 1990, noted the Expert.  Maternal mortality, for example, had increased and was connected to the persisting inequality.  What strategies were planned to improve the existing situation?
The right to development was raised by an Expert, who wanted to know about policies in place to reach the point of “self-sustaining development”.
What targeted policies were in place in rural areas? How about policies to fight long-term unemployment and unemployment of women and girls?
There was still no national minimum wage in place, said the Expert.  What was the Government’s current position on that issue?
She also raised the issue of occupational dangers in the mining industry?
More information was sought on the Old Age Pension Fund and its relation with the existing old age pensions.  Was it planned to introduce unemployment benefits to the existing list of benefits?  To what extent could unemployed persons benefit from social protection?
Another Expert asked to what extent Namibia had benefited from international cooperation and assistance for its programmes addressing unemployment.
Were there some specific regulations in place for collective bargaining, inquired an Expert.  He also raised the issue of the right to strike.
The Government’s policies to combat unemployment might not be as effective as the Government would want them to be, noted another Expert.  Regular labour force surveys were a useful tool helping the authorities understand the nature of the problem; how often were such surveys conducted and could they be done annually? He emphasized the need for disaggregated data in labour statistics.
What was the extent of unemployment of persons with disabilities? How effective was the prohibition of disability as a ground for discrimination?
More information was sought on the results of the policies promoting the creation of small and medium enterprises
Did labour inspectors have enough power in order to assure that labour laws were appropriately implemented?  The Expert also wanted to hear about specific steps taken to regularize the informal sector
Another Expert inquired about structural barriers to the creation of jobs.  Were there any discussions trying to address the issue of jobless growth
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Namibia, asked about the position of trade unions in Namibia, in both law and practice.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the Inter-ministerial Committee was responsible for providing information for the State party’s reports.  The Ministry of Justice chaired the Committee.  Once the information had been compiled, it was shared with Namibia’s non-governmental organizations.  The Committee also coordinated actions on concluding observations made by treaty bodies.
With regard to the relation of Article 95 and economic, social and cultural rights, the delegation said that Article 144 of the Constitution provided that all international agreements to which Namibia was a party formed part of Namibian law upon ratification. Once an international treaty had been ratified, necessary changes would need to be made within domestic laws to enable Namibia to comply with its new international obligations.  One group of rights was thus not more justiciable than the other; there was nothing preventing parties from taking up cases to courts. 
Since economic, social and cultural rights had financial implications, some, such as education, needed to be prioritized over others, such as legal aid.  Nonetheless, through fair trial provisions, the State was under obligation to provide legal aid, when necessary, in order to ensure a fair trial.  If a person did not qualify for legal aid, but it was in the interest of justice, they had to apply for it and have their application approved.  There was no automatic grant of legal aid.  The delegation stressed that there was no inconsistency between having certain rights, and not others, in the Bill of Rights.
On the status of the Ombudsman, it was stated that it had been awarded an A status, in line with the Paris Principles, for the third consecutive year in a row, the only such case in Africa.  The Office of the Ombudsman had a hybrid mandate and also acted as a national human rights institution.
With regard to the protection of indigenous peoples, a delegate said that when the Constitution had been drafted, after the long period of colonization, it had stressed that all inhabitants were all equal.  Immediately after independence, the Government had realized that there was a group of citizens needing special attention.  That was how the term “marginalized communities” had been created.  Every resident of Namibia was considered as indigenous, while certain communities were perceived as particularly vulnerable, or marginalized.
There were more and more people coming forward and registering their land rights.  The Government had been purchasing land, resettling the San people and providing them with necessary assistance, while following the “willing seller – willing buyer” policy.  Every year, the Prime Minister would go around the country to consult people on their needs.  There was now a new Deputy Minister on Marginalized Communities, in charge of hearing people’s problems and identifying best ways to assist them.  Some communities were offered livestock.
The delegation said that Namibia had used various international fora to provide numerous responses regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  For the time being, such people were protected, like everyone else, by the Constitution.  They were not prosecuted as long as they conducted their affairs in private, but sodomy was still a criminal offence, according to the inherited common law.  It was too early to discuss gay marriage in Namibia, which was rather conservative. 
The Minister of Health had recently started a consultative process to engage with all stakeholders on the possible distribution of condoms in prisons.  The health issue was thus given priority over the decriminalization of sodomy.  It was best to wait and see the outcome of the consultative process.
Responding to the question of Namibia’s legal system, a delegate said that Article 66 of the Constitution recognized customary law, which provided sources of the legal system.  Customary and State legal systems complemented each other.  Nonetheless, there was a hierarchy, and as long as customary law was not in contradiction with the Constitution or civil law, it was acceptable.  Any outcome of community courts could be referred to and enforced by the magistrate courts.
On poverty and inequality, the delegation explained that the current situation was very much connected to what Namibia had inherited at the time of the independence.  Namibia had been a proudly independent country for 26 years and it was time to move towards economic emancipation for all.  All Namibians had access to all public services, and the quality of those services was provided at the same level; no group was privileged in that regard. 
Namibia had a huge income gap between the rich and the poor, but the country had managed to move to the status of an upper middle income country.  Since then, many international social partners had withdrawn their support.  The percentage of people receiving social grants had increased significantly.  Despite sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges, the Government was doing its best to reduce the inequality gap and equalize the standard of living.  The literacy rate today was well over 90 per cent.
In Namibia, each ethnic group used to have a separate education system, but the education sector today was integrated.  There were admittedly quality concerns vis-à-vis the education system, but it was important to emphasize that the inequality inherited in 1990 had been addressed to the extent that most government schools were now overpopulated. 
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert reiterated her question on the evaluation of the national gender policy.  She commented that some rights formed core obligations and were not subject to progressive realization
The taxation system needed to be more ambitious and vigorous in implementation, noted the Expert.  It could help with the redistribution of income and promote social justice, which was at the essence of the Covenant. 
Another Expert noted that “marginalized communities” might be entitled to affirmative action, but not to the right of self-determination, as would be the case if they were recognized as indigenous peoples.
A question was asked on the existence of specific measures to reduce inequality.
Coming back to the status of economic, social and cultural rights in the Namibian legal order, an Expert inquired what the reason could be that no court cases had been filed under those rights.  Was it possible that the public did not know that those rights were justiciable?  Was there an adequate level of human rights education in Namibia?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said that experts from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare were regrettably not present today.  Following the elections in 2014 and 2015, there was now 49 per cent representation of women in the Parliament and 48 per cent in local councils.  Namibia was the third country in Africa and twelfth in the world when it came to women’s political representation. 
The Government had already approved International Labour Organization Convention 169 on indigenous people; hence, Namibia understood the need of bringing those people into the mainstream.  Namibia was a unitary State, stressed the delegation,  but different communities were represented at the local level.
On taxation, it was explained that the President had proposed a solidarity tax, which would help address the issue of poverty eradication.  Tax laws were already in place and mining companies, for example,  paid appropriate taxes.
The delegation acknowledged the challenges in disseminating the Convention.  Some non-governmental organizations were doing a great job in that regard.  Dissemination of the Convention and other international instruments ought to be intensified; one of the possible ways to do so would be by publishing them in the Official Gazette. 
The delegation wanted to know of any information which indicated that elementary and secondary education in public schools was not free.  There was no requirement for payment, but parents could make voluntary payments to school funds.  Some schools had accommodation facilities, for children studying in places away from home, and those fees had to be paid.  A school-feeding programme was in place in all public schools across the country, and children were provided with one meal per day.
Most Namibians lived in rural areas and moved to urban areas seeking employment.  The Government was looking into ways to update the 1997 unemployment policy, which was still in place. 
There were labour inspectors in the country, who had the authority to inspect farms and work places.  Stakeholders were engaged on a yearly basis on how to increase awareness on security and safety in all sectors, not only the mining sector.
The Ministry of Labour issued wage orders, and there were occasional problems when employers did not want to comply with minimum wage orders.
It was explained that the authorities, inter alia, provided maternity and sickness benefits. The Social Security Commission had been authorized to increase the scope of benefits, which would cover all persons in need in both formal and informal sectors.  There were certain schemes in place to secure benefits for the unemployed.  While there was no paternity leave as such, there were provisions for men to apply for special leave.
There were banks to which entrepreneurs could apply for loans to start businesses at very preferential rates.  Other banks provided support to farmers who wanted to go into commercial farming.
The delegation stated that the right to organize labour unions was enshrined in the Constitution and the Labour Act.  Namibia operated on a tripartite base, which involved the authorities, employers and employees.  The Ministry of Labour provided a platform, but did not dictate what should be included in a collective agreement.  The country was still consulting on establishing a national pension fund.
Follow-up Questions
An Expert wanted to hear more about the effects of the work of the banks supporting small and medium businesses
Were there free export zones in Namibia, and, if so, what kind of rights did labour unions enjoy there?
Another Expert wanted to understand how a new pension fund would be different from the existing old age pension.
Replies by the Delegation
A delegate said that the export processing zone legislation had been in place since 1995.  It included exemption from tax duties and the prohibition of the right to strike for workers.  Workers did have all other rights in place, stressed the delegate.
The most dominant union in the country was the mine workers’ union.  Any discussion on the mining industry would include participation by the union.
Questions by Experts
The delegation was asked to provide statistics on the application of the legislation on violence against women.
The issue of female genital mutilation was brought up by an Expert, who wanted to know more about its prevalence in certain regions in Namibia.  If it still existed, what was the Government doing to educate public opinion?
The Committee was pleased to notice progress made in reducing maternal and infant mortality rates.  Could the latest statistics be provided?  Commendable progress had also been made in combatting HIV/AIDS.
Mobile health clinics offered only limited services.  Had the State party considered using the Internet and video conferences, which would allow mobile general practitioners to consult with specialists?
Greater support ought to be given to small-scale emerging farmers, said another Expert.  How was the Government helping those farmers become more commercially viable?  What measures were being taken to allow local markets to develop?
Did small-scale farmers in the Kavango Region have legally recognized titles to the lands they occupied? Would the new land bill protect small-scale farmers from negative practices?
There was no reference in the report to a national right-to-food strategy, noted the Expert, who asked the delegation to inform of the intentions of the Government in that regard.
Another Expert said that the majority of marriages were reported to be concluded under the customary law.  The customary law did not set the necessary minimum age for marriage.  Taking into account the realities of the society,  what steps were being taken in legal terms and education to try to change those cultural traditions which did not comply with the standards under the Covenant?  A question was asked about the difficulties the Government was facing under the dualistic system of justice, with prevalent and strong cultural traditions.
What was being done to make the right to water and sanitation justiciable, and to make sure that judges and lawyers were aware of it?  What was the Government doing regarding the pollution of drinking water and the broader environment?
The Expert asked how the poverty line was decided. Quite a high percentage of the population was reported to be living under the poverty line, many of whom were orphans, people with disabilities, sex workers, etc.  Had the authorities carried out a survey on their poverty reduction strategy.
There was a lack of social housing for vulnerable groups, the Expert noted.  Forced evictions also seemed to be a problem, he said, partly because of the large number of people living in informal settlements.  Did those evicted normally become homeless?
The Committee had been informed that some HIV-positive women were forced to be sterilized, an Expert said.  What measures were being taken to ensure that forced sterilizations of such women were completely halted?  What measures were taken to finalize the draft reproductive policy?  She also wanted to know about steps taken to eliminate female genital mutilation and other harmful practices in Namibia?
Access to health services in Namibia had increased, but many people in rural areas had to travel long distances to reach health facilities.  What measures had been taken to improve accessibility, quality and efficiency of primary health services?  Had any evaluations and subsequent adjustments been conducted?
HIV/AIDS remained a major challenge, the Expert said, especially for women.
Another Expert inquired what steps the Government had taken to implement the poverty alleviation policy and what the results were. 
An Expert expressed his concern that the infant mortality rate had initially decreased, but had since bounced back.   There was a high level of inequality when it came to the enjoyment of the right to health.  What were concrete strategies to address both maternal and infant mortality?  What was being done to address high inequality in access to health services?
The “willing seller-willing buyer” approach could not substitute a comprehensive land reform, another Expert noted.  The current land reform programme was not helping address the poverty problem, according to the Government’s own admission. 
What percentage of farmers working land actually held titles to their land?
Replies by the Delegation
The old age pension fund had been in place for a long time, said the delegation.  Under the custody of the Ministry of Labour, it was paid for by social security.  A national pension plan had been established after a finding that workers in the private sector who retired did not receive pensions awarded to retired civil servants.  A new name could be given to the new fund, such as “pension fund for non-civil servants”.
It was explained that there was maternity, compassionate and sick leave; special leave covered all other cases.  There were currently no plans to introduce paternity leave.
Despite progressive legislation against gender-based violence, it was still was very prevalent in Namibia.  The statistics were being compiled; some incidents were reported as ordinary criminal cases and not domestic violence.  There was an act in place to combat rape, said a delegate.  The national response to gender-based violence included psycho-social, medical and legal aspects.  The abuse of alcohol and substances was identified as a major factor contributing to gender-based violence.  Protection orders were often violated.
On the question of female genital mutilation, the delegation contested that such phenomenon was happening in Namibia and would wish to see any evidence to the contrary. 
Currently, the authorities had introduced community health workers with the view of reducing maternal mortality rates.  They were given a six-month training on all basic health problems, so that they could identify issues and provide first aid.  Trained midwives had been placed in maternity wards.  Emergency, maternal and neonatal care services were also being improved. 
The new school of medicine had just produced a first class of graduates.  Health professionals were also trained abroad, but the shortage of doctors and nurses in a large country such as Namibia continued to be a problem.  Mobile clinics were a designated point where health workers would meet people on a fortnightly basis. Villagers were informed of the exact time and place of the visit.  Community-based health workers would help address the issue of waiting times as they would be physically present in villages and would inform medical centres if there were urgent cases.
In Namibia, sterilization could only be done on consent, and that could not be verbal; the person needed to present a signed affidavit to health authorities.
The delegation said that the legislation provided for the establishment of communal land boards which would address the issues of illegal fencing.  When illegal fences were not removed voluntarily, a court order would be issued so that they could be removed by force. 
The right to housing was not expressly stated in the Constitution, but Article 13 of the Constitution, on the right to privacy, was interpreted to include privacy of one’s house.  There was a national housing project in place, with significant resources dedicated to it.
Forced evictions took place only in urban areas when the owner of the land was the local authority.  People were evicted only when court orders had been received. 
A delegate said that Namibia was doing well when it came to child labour.  Up to now, labour inspectors had not observed any cases of child labour in any of the industries inspected, but cases had been observed in neighbouring countries.  There were groups who practiced taking in children of their relatives in order to provide them with educational opportunities.  Children assisted with household chores; that could not be called exploitation and did not amount to child labour.
The Government was currently working on systematization of labour occupations, so that it would be made clear which jobs children could and could not take.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked about access to the Internet across Namibia, especially among people living in disadvantaged situations. 
Another Expert said that, while some results had been seen in primary education, Namibia was suffering from the lack of infrastructure and qualified teachers.  How could it be guaranteed that such education was mandatory and free for all?  Why had Namibia waited until 2016 to ensure that secondary education was also free?
He asked whether any measures had been taken to provide for children to learn to read and write in their mother tongues.
Early childhood education was recognized as crucial, said an Expert.  What were the strategies to provide such education, especially to children from low-income families?
A question was asked on whether there was an official policy to grant recognition to certain groups of the population as indigenous people.  Those described as “disadvantaged groups” should be given more possibilities to define their own priorities.  What could be done to better streamline cultural programmes?
Systematic human rights education played a significant role in building a culture that respected human rights, an Expert said.  Was the Government considering including human rights into curricula?
Another Expert asked whether female genital mutilation was explicitly criminalized.
Almost 19 per cent of children did not complete primary education, an Expert noted, and five per cent had no formal education at all; these were alarmingly high figures. 
Replies by the Delegation
On the implementation of the national gender policy, the delegation said that there were challenges at three levels: political, institutional and regarding gender-desegregated data.  Resources allocated did not meet the objective needs.  Namibia was one of the few countries in southern Africa to have made progress towards gender-responsive budgeting.  There were national and regional permanent gender task forces in place.  Gender analysis could not be effectively conducted without desegregated data, the delegation acknowledged.  Attitudes towards gender equality and women advancement could, regrettably, still be described as generally negative, which was why effective outreach and awareness-raising activities had been taking place. 
Regarding the suspension of the SADC Tribunal, it was explained that the separation of various branches of power were well respected in Namibia. The judiciary had its own administrative and financial independence. The decision to suspend the SADC Tribunal had been made by the Heads of States of the Community and the delegation could not comment further.
The delegation stated that the labour force survey was regularly conducted.  There were 180 labour inspectors in Namibia, with 240 additional staff.   Labour inspectors provided inspections in various sectors every quarter.  The Labour Act recognized the right to organize trade unions, which needed to register with the Office of the Labour Commissioner. 
It was explained that farmers were offered various types of loans which allowed them to purchase livestock and equipment so that they could use their lands to full capacity.  The repayment could go up to ten years.  A farmer-support programme was in place, providing training to farmers across the country.  A communal-land programme advised those farmers on how to pursue commercially viable strategies.
The Agricultural Land Reform of 1995 provided for the acquisition of land by the Government for the benefit of all citizens, especially those who had been discriminated against in the past.  The Act provided for the equal power of spouses to dispose of their assets.  The Communal Land Reform of 2002 provided for the equal right of women to be granted rights in communal areas.  The surviving spouse had to be given the first choice over the land after their spouse passed away.  The authorities were cognizant of the fact that the numbers still remained unequal in favour of men, but that would need be fixed over a long time.
There was a national human rights action plan in place, which, among others, included the right to water and sanitation.  In 2015, Namibia had met the Millennium Development Goal target for safe drinking water, but not the one on sanitation.  More than 76 per cent of rural households did not have access to sanitation, as compared to 14 per cent of urban households.  In rural areas, there were water points where water was available free of charge.
There had been some sterilization cases for which women had been duly compensated; no sterilization without the woman’s consent had taken place since, said a delegate.
Regarding the poverty rate, the delegation referred to tables in the initial report and explained that it was analyzed by consumption below predetermined levels.
Regulations to operationalize the Childhood Protection Act of 2015 were being finalized. The Act made provisions for juvenile justice, adoption issues and protection of children from harmful practices.  Female genital mutilation was definitely considered as a harmful cultural practice.  There was perhaps a need to work on awareness-raising on the issue, so that the nation understood what it was and why it was harmful. 
Data on how many pre-primary schools had been established would be subsequently provided.  Pre-primary schools were also free of charge, the delegation stressed.  The Government provided all the infrastructure and teachers for such schools.  Resource constraints had prevent the Government from implementing free education in secondary schools until recently.  Sixteen local languages were spoken in Namibia, and it was quite a challenge to provide education in all of them, but existing policies included provisions to that effect.
More education and awareness raising needed to be done on the advantages of vocational training, which was sometimes stigmatized.
There was no exact information on access to the Internet, but the Government was working really hard to overcome the existing digital divide.  There were 141 post offices in the country, which was a geographically vast country with a small population.
On the question on disability, a delegate responded that the right not to be discriminated against was one of the seven areas in the National Human Rights Plan.  Article 10 of the Constitution did not list disability as a ground for discrimination, but the Plan did so, covering various aspects of discrimination.  All public buildings had to have ramps, for example.  The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, supported by the Ombudsman, was in charge of the implementation of policies to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities.
Follow-up Questions
An Expert stressed that the Government had to give priority to addressing the issue of the poor.  For example, what had the authorities done to improve housing for the poor in recent years?
The issue of empowering associations of small farmers was brought up by another Expert, who asked for more information on that issue.  Did Namibia plan to develop a national strategy on the right to food?
Illegal fencing practices continued, and farmers were reported to have access to remedies.  Could the delegation provide some statistics in that regard?
Another Expert said that gender mainstreaming needed to go hand-in-hand with affirmative actions and specific policies for certain groups of women.
There were several concerns regarding the mandate of the Ombudsman, whose office did not cover all rights in line with the Paris Principles.  The Ombudsman, for example, also did not have the power to recruit his own staff and needed increased funding.
What was the level of organization of workers – how many members were there in the two main unions and their subdivisions?
In a society as unequal as Namibia, the quality and availability of public services to all was a matter of concern, said an Expert.  There seemed to be a shortage of doctors in public hospitals, for example.  The creation of good jobs was one of the key ways to combat inequality, he said.
Replies by the Delegation
Poverty eradication and housing were very high among the priorities of the Government, said the delegation.  The Ministry of Poverty Eradication had been created recently.
More details on agricultural reforms would be provided in writing subsequently.
The delegation said that in recent years studies had been conducted on gender-based violence; 69.3 per cent of respondents reported to have been subject to at least some kind of gender-based violence by an intimate partner.  About 34 per cent of all respondents had been subject to physical or sexual violence.  The battle on educating the general population and raising their awareness about such violence still needed to be won as many citizens still believed that husbands had the right to punish their wives on various grounds.
The Expert’s comments on the Ombudsman would be shared with the authorities and efforts would be made to ensure that its accreditation was renewed.  Resources for the Office had increased, which had allowed for the completion of a white paper on the rights of marginalized communities.
After identifying illegal fencing, the authorities would inform the offenders of the need to voluntarily remove the fences.  Those which had not been removed could be removed by communal land boards upon the receipt of court orders. 
Out of approximately 600,000 workers in Namibia, some 60-70,000 were members of the National Union of Namibian Workers and 20,000 were with the Trade Union Congress.
All Namibians had the right to access health care, even if their financial means were inadequate.  A roadmap was in place to train hundreds of undergraduates, graduates, specialists and nurses.  The provision of health services ought to be improved in rural areas; those working in difficult conditions needed to receive appropriate compensation.
Concluding Remarks
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Namibia, said that the replies to most of the questions were very relevant, while a number of questions remained outstanding.  The dialogue was a very relevant exercise, and it was hoped that it would not take another 17 years to receive and discuss Namibia’s follow-up report. 
SABINE BÖHLKE-MÖLLER, Permanent Representative of Namibia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee Members for their constructive contributions.  The questions that the delegation had not been able to answer would be answered in writing shortly.  Namibia was looking forward to receiving the concluding observations, which would be distributed to the line Ministries.  The delegation of Namibia would come back to the Committee soon.
WALEED SADI, Committee Chairperson, said that the dialogue had been a learning process for the delegation.  It was hoped that the next time the Committee saw the Namibian delegation would be sooner than in 17 years, and that the delegation would then provide concrete results of what had been done regarding health, poverty, housing, etc.  If certain people were described as marginalized, special efforts ought to be made to address their problems.


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