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Human Rights Day 2009: Embrace Diversity, End Discrimination

On 10 December 2009, the world came together to mark Human Rights Day under the United Nation's theme of Embrace Diversity, End Discrimination.

In line with the theme, LAC Director Norman Tjombe was interviewed on the state of discrimination in Namibia, anti-discrimination laws, and change for the future. 

Q: What’s discrimination?

Tjombe: Discrimination is when you treat people in the same or similar situation differently.  It’s when you extend different types of services to people who are in the same or similar category.

Q:  Does it still exist in Namibia?

Tjombe: Yes.  There are quite a number of cases or incidents of discrimination.  The most obvious example is discrimination based on the sexes.  In particular, men would more likely receive better treatment than women in this country.  It occurs in various contexts – where there is a job recruitment or promotion, or out there in society where there are different types of services offered.  For instance, the police could take a complaint lodged by a male partner more seriously than a complaint lodged by a female partner.  We have a lot of violence in this society that stems from this same discrimination, because the violence is directed mostly toward women and girl children.  And that’s just one type of discrimination that exists here.

Q:  What other discrimination occurs?

Tjombe: Well, of course racial discrimination.  The differing treatment based on race is pretty common in this country, particularly in rural areas on farms and again, in the workplace – workers don’t get promoted because of their particular race or ethnic tribe even.  In other instances you may actually be recruited because of your race or tribe, at the expense of others who may be more competent or suitable for that job.  Another example is discrimination on the basis of disability.  A lot of employers would, for instance, not employ a paralysed person over a non-paralysed person.  Generally, all of these types of discrimination are outlawed by our Constitution and by statutes like the Racial Prohibition Act and the Labour Act.

Q:  Is Namibia worse than other countries?

Tjombe:  I wouldn’t say so.  There are circumstances and situations in which we are worse than other countries.  But I think we fare far better than most countries, especially other African countries.  We are a more tolerant society – tolerant of diversity – and so there is less discrimination here.  But then again, we are comparing ourselves to other African countries and these other African countries are the worst case scenarios.  It’s not very difficult to outperform them.  We should actually compare ourselves with those countries in which there is absolutely no discrimination or very little discrimination.  But we have our yardstick, and that’s the Constitution.  We should measures ourselves against our own Constitution, not against Zimbabwe or Angola.

Q:  What are some ways that people can further embrace diversity?

Tjombe: Tolerance is a behaviour, it’s a state of mind, it’s your beliefs, it’s your values.  It’s a conscious act that needs to be taken up by people; people should be conscious of not discriminating against others, of considering other people’s cultures and languages, and of valuing those cultures and languages as they do their own.  This must be a conscious decision made by people.

Q:  What are the international guiding principles that relate to anti-discrimination?

Tjombe:  There are several international laws about anti-discrimination.  The most notable is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted on 10 December 1948.  Out of this document came several subsequent conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD); and the Convention Against Torture.  These are international human rights documents that have clauses or provisions compelling us as an international community to embrace anti-discrimination practices, laws and policies.  Namibia, as a signatory to all those that I have mentioned and many others, is bound by these documents.  The Namibian Constitution enshrines these exact types of anti-discrimination provisions. 

Q:  If someone feels like they are being discriminated against, what can they do?

Tjombe:  It depends on what the discrimination is and in what context it occurs.  For instance, if it occurred in the labour context, the Labour Act would allow you to take up a case with the Ministry of Labour, Labour Commission, who would then try to resolve it in one way or another.  Another law dealing with discrimination in the labour context is the Affirmative Action Act.  It contains certain provisions, penalties, and criminal charges that apply to employers when they discriminate against their employees.  The Prohibition on Racial Discrimination of 1991 makes discrimination on the basis of race illegal and you can actually be prosecuted if you are found to have violated it.  Finally, there are institutions like the Ombudsman and the police, along with NGOs and the Legal Assistance Centre, which all deal with these matters.  They can be of assistance in protecting the right to be free from discrimination.

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