Namibia: A Response To The Homophobic Rhetoric Of The President

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is forwarding two press releases from The Rainbow Project, a human-rights organization based in Namibia.

Contact: Ian Swartz Tel 230710 Liz Frank Tel 227828

Windhoek, 25 March 2001
For immediate release

The Rainbow Project, a human rights organisation fighting for the recognition and protection of the human rights of all people in Namibia, including the human rights of sexual minorities, conducted its Third Annual General Meeting in Windhoek on Saturday. The meeting was attended by thirty of the organisationÕs fifty-six members, as well as guests from the US, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

In response to the recent remarks of the President, the meeting adopted the following resolution:

"This Annual General Meeting of The Rainbow Projects rejects and condemns the call by the President of the Republic of Namibia to arrest, imprison and deport members of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from Namibia. We urge the President to withdraw his hateful, divisive and potentially dangerous remarks. As head of this country the President is surely well aware that his statements are unconstitutional. Police must uphold and follow the laws of this country, and not act upon the whims and dictates of a president or anyone else. As the Prime Minister has stated repeatedly in response to homophobic outbursts by a handful of government ministers and the President, the Namibian Constitution protects the human rights of all the people of Namibia equally. The Rainbow Project will continue its struggle to ensure that our constitution exists not only as words on paper, but as an ideal to which all Namibians strive. Everyone must know that the alternative to the democratic rule of law is dictatorship.

We urge anyone who is harassed, threatened, harmed in any way or arrested because of their sexual orientation or gender identity to contact The Rainbow Project so that we can seek legal redress.

We call on all human rights organisations to support us in the planning and conducting of a march for Human Rights for All!

We call on all friends and supporters of The Rainbow Project to speak out now, before your own family members are illegally imprisoned or deported."

Contact: Ian Swartz, The Rainbow Project Tel: (264) 61 230710 Liz Frank,
The Rainbow Project Tel: (264) 61 227828

20 March 2001


For immediate release
Human rights are for all

The Rainbow Project, a human rights organization fighting for the recognition and protection of the human rights of all people in NamibiaÑincluding the human rights of sexual minorities--is shocked at the statements made against gay and lesbian people in Namibia by the President in his address to Polytechnic students earlier this week.

According to reports in the media, the President said that "The Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality, lesbianism here. Police are ordered to arrest you, and deport you and imprison you too." He went on to state that the protection of homosexuality as part of human rights was a "foreign influence" and claimed that Namibians "did not fight for this", warning students from listening to "such lies".

In the understanding of the Rainbow Project, it is only the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia and the other laws of this country that lay down "what is allowed here". The first paragraph of the preamble of our constitution clearly states that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is indispensable for freedom, justice and peace É" Nowhere does the Constitution state that gay and lesbian people are not members of the human family and therefore do not enjoy the same rights as all other citizens. Nowhere does our Constitution state that "Homosexuality is not allowed in Namibia." Nor are we aware of any other laws that forbid "homosexuality and lesbianism in Namibia." We ask the President to inform us under which law(s) the police are "ordered to arrest, deport and even imprison" lesbian and gay people in Namibia. We would also like to know whether the President has made arrangements with the prison authorities to accommodate some ten percent of the population, or deals with some other country or countries to which Namibian citizens can be deported because of their sexual orientation, and whether such arrangements would be legal?

The PresidentÕs statements come only two weeks after the equally shocking judgement brought down by the Supreme Court on Monday, 4 March 2001, which denied any form of legal recognition to same sex relationships in Namibia. In the judgement, which dealt with the application for permanent residence by Liz Frank based in part on her longstanding lesbian relationship with Namibian citizen Elizabeth Khaxas, Judge Brian OÕLinn argued that, unlike in South Africa, where discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is explicitly prohibited in the 1994 constitution, there was no legal trend towards the recognition of same-sex relationships in Namibia.

However, all legal trends have a beginning, and we recognize and salute the brave beginning made by Judge Levy in the High Court of Namibia in June 2000 when he argued that lesbian and gay partnerships would be recognized under a court of law as a "universal partnership" and should have been taken into account in favour of Liz Frank in her application for permanent residence. The Supreme Court ruling could have been trendsetting by supporting this enlightened beginning.

We are deeply concerned that this ruling was instead set aside by the Supreme Court of Namibia, eleven years after the adoption of a democratic constitution based on the fundamental principles of equality and human rights. This judgement hides behind the prejudiced hate speech of a handful of government leaders and proclaims their outbursts to be a reflection of the norms and values of the Namibian people.

To back up this argument, Judge OÕLinn stated that there was no support for the human rights of gay and lesbian people from the ruling party when this issue was debated in parliament. This is an error of fact. On 2 November 2000 the following statement was read to parliament by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Honourable Kawana, on behalf of the Prime Minister, in answer to a question from CoD parliamentarian Rosa Namises regarding the human rights of gay and lesbian people in Namibia: "The Right Honourable Prime Minister stands by his statements of the past years, that the human rights of all Namibians, regardless of their economic or social status, are protected under Chapter 3 of the Namibian Constitution regarding the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms." With reference to Minister EkandjoÕs call to police graduates to "arrest and eliminate gays and lesbians from Namibia," the Prime Minister stated that "there is a distinction between statements made by a Minister in his capacity as private citizen and those statements that represent government policy." According to the Prime Minister then, Minister Ekandjo was not expressing SWAPO or government policy on this matter (although we fail to understand why the Minister of Home Affairs was invited to address police graduates as a private citizen.) In answer to a question on laws that prohibit homosexuality in Namibia, the Prime Minister stated that "(T)he government is aware that some of the provisions of our laws need reform in order to be compatible with the letter and the spirit of the Namibian Constitution."

The Rainbow Project calls on members of all political parties, all human rights organisations, all other civic organizations and the people of Namibia to strengthen the voice of the Prime Minister and speak out publicly now for the recognition of the human rights of all our citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other difference. Human rights are neither "foreign" nor "African" ‹ they are universal! Human rights are enshrined in our Constitution with the very purpose of protecting the rights of minorities from ignorant prejudice and willful oppression by those who pretend to speak for or hide behind "the majority". Oppressors can claim to speak in the name of "the majority" only for as long as the majority remains silent.

Our outreach and counselling work in The Rainbow Project over the past two years informs us that there is no region, no town, no community, no extended family in Namibia that does not have gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or transsexual family members. We urge you to speak out now, before the Minister of Home Affairs or the President force the police to follow their orders to "arrest", "imprison", "eliminate" and "deport" your own family members from Namibia. And we call on Namibian gay and lesbian people to "come out, speak out, now!"

The Rainbow Project will continue to educate our Namibian compatriots on the indivisibility of human rights and on everybodyÕs right to speak their minds freely. We will not be silenced. The culture of dominance through the reign of fear can and will be overcome. The recognition of human rights has always been struggled over, and in collaboration with other human rights organisations, political parties, civic groups, the media and the people of Namibia we will continue to speak the recognition and protection of the human rights of all members of the human family into existence.