Indigenous communities must be included at all levels in Namibia’s policies, a United Nations expert stressed today, adding that the Government must engage with them while respecting their unique identities.
“Like many other countries around the world that have experienced European colonization and waves of migration, indigenous groups that are in the minority in Namibia have suffered injustices in the past that leave them disadvantaged, to varying degrees, in the present,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, at the end of his nine-day mission to the country.
“These groups have expressed to me a strong desire for greater inclusion in decision-making at all levels, to be able to genuinely set their own priorities for development, and to regain or strengthen rights over lands and natural resources, particularly lands to which they retain a cultural attachment.”
Mr. Anaya welcomed Namibia’s initiatives for the development of the San and other minority communities. However, he said that during his trip he had detected a lack of policies that assign “a positive value to the distinctive identities and practices of these indigenous peoples.”
He recalled the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their distinct identities and cultures as a basis of their development and place in the world, to pursue their own destinies under conditions of equality, and to have secure rights over lands and resources, with due regard for their traditional patterns of use and occupancy.
“With respect to the San peoples in particular, who were the primary focus of my visit, I recognize that, especially in recent years, the Government has entered into some innovative arrangements with San tribes through which they have been able to increase their control over management of land areas and derive some substantial benefits,” Mr. Anaya said.
However, he noted that there are still also numerous San communities that were entirely dispossessed of their lands prior to independence, and those lands are now in the hands of the State and private landowners.
The communities he met with also expressed a strong desire for increased educational opportunities. He also heard that many communities do not have recognized traditional authorities, and that minority indigenous communities are often placed under the jurisdictions of chiefs of neighbouring dominant tribes, who make decisions on behalf of the minority communities.
During his mission, Mr. Anaya visited Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, and the regions of Tsumkwe, West Caprivi, Okuakuejo, and Opuko. He met with representatives and members of various San groups, as well as with representatives from the Government, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.
Mr. Anaya will present a report on his visit at a forthcoming session of the Council in Geneva.