Legal Assistance Centre

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Norman Tjombe
Norman Tjombe
LAC Director

In 2008, the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) celebrates its 20th year in existence.

Throughout the years, the Centre remains true to its mission of creating an maintianing a culture of human rights in Namibia, whether through public-interest litigations, information and training workshops, or research, advocacy and lobbying for legislative reform.

As such, the LAC is widely recognized as playing a central role in the country's development and democratisation.

The LAC continues to challenge the constitutionality of laws that are clearly in conflict with the Namibian Constitution and international
human rights law. Doing this by various means is our primary task.

For instance, a major litigation matter that we pursued in 2006 was that of challenging the outdated common law provision that excludes children born out of wedlock from inheriting from their fathers.

In another important case, the LAC is representing the community of Omafo village in northern Namibia, who will be displaced if the Helao Nafidi Town Council goes ahead with its plans to build the country’s largest casino and entertainment complex.

Land reform is a critical issues in Namibia, and we are seeking to protect the land rights of this community.

In 2005, in response to a request from the Government of Namibia to assist with the drafting of a National Policy on HIV and AIDS, our AIDS Law Unit commenced with the task of consulting numerous stakeholders across the country for their input.

This was a massive task of extreme national importance, as HIV and AIDS constitute a major human rights issue, not only for those infected and directly affected, but indirectly for everyone in Namibia, hence very wide consultation on the policy was imperative. Most stakeholders approved the draft policy produced by the ALU in 2006, and the Government ultimately adopted it. It remains for the public to judge whether the LAC was equal to the task.

The Centre plays a major role in the implementation of the policy, including the ‘watchdog’ role, to help ensure that the Government and other stakeholders fulfil their obligations under the policy.

We view the Government’s policy-drafting request as a recognition of the importance of the LAC’s work, and of our expertise regarding the links between human rights and HIV and AIDS. But crucially, this request is evidence of a much-improved relationship between the LAC and the Government – an improvement that the Centre has worked
very hard to attain.

Among government officials and other development stakeholders in the past, there was a common misperception of the LAC as an ‘adversary’, whereas today the Centre is readily accepted and valued as a development partner.

Further confirmation of this partnership was the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare’s commissioning of the LAC Gender Research and Advocacy Project to develop a Gender Training Manual and Resource Guide to support the implementation of the National Gender Policy, which publication was completed in 2006.

Furthermore, the LAC’s Human Rights and Constitutional Unit is working with the Government to draft a new law on mental health. In this undertaking the Centre is focusing strongly on the rights of State President’s Patients. This focus is greatly informed by the numerous cases over the last 10 years in which we litigated for the appropriate treatment of people with mental illnesses who were accused of committing criminal offences and deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

The LAC’s Land, Environment and Development (LEAD) Project has contributed a great deal to developing and implementing Namibia’s land reform programme – another matter of extreme national importance. In 2006, LEAD started developing an environmental
resource and training manual that will help the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Communal Land Boards to make environmentally sound decisions when dealing with land-related matters in communal

Funding remains a critical issue for the Centre. The LAC is the only organisation of its kind in the country, and many factors constantly increase our burden to act, with the attendant budgetary considerations.

Prime examples of these factors are that civil society organisations are relatively small and face multifarious operational challenges, the political system is dominated by the ruling party, poverty levels are extremely high across the country, and many people are unaware of both their rights and duties.

Yet, despite an often dire lack of funds for particular activities, the Centre has continued to thrive in every aspect of its work (litigation, research, advocacy, etc.), and that fact is attributable chiefly to the competence, commitment and selflessness of the staff, whom I thank for their outstanding service to the Centre and the people of Namibia.

Our donors may rest assured that we made prudent use of their generous funding, and that their investment in the LAC was a sound investment in Namibia as a whole.

Thus, on behalf of all Namibians, I thank and express deep gratitude to the LAC’s donors.

The LAC will continue to exist and to pursue the same mission for as long as this mission remains relevant.