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UN finds Namibia wanting in adhering to international anti-racism laws

20/08/2008: In July 2008, the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), the only public interest law firm in Namibia and Georgetown University’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic in Washington DC jointly compiled a “shadow” or supplementary letter to the UN Committee of experts which oversees the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The letter aimed to inform the CERD Committee ahead of its review of Namibia’s compliance with the Convention on July 29-30, 2008. Based on the Clinic and LAC’s impact litigation work in earlier 2007, the letter outlined examples of the intersection of race and gender discrimination by providing recommendations and highlighting:

  • An Apartheid era law, the Native Administration Proclamation of 1928, that still governs key issues of personal law based on a person’s race, and that has an adverse impact on black women, especially at the most vulnerable times of divorce or at the death of a husband or parent; and

  • Select customary laws, which, by definition, apply only to black Namibians, and not only contain elements which discriminate against black women, but also exclude them from the protections of civil law, especially in the areas that most closely affect the majority of women, marriage and dissolution of marriage, by either divorce or death.

Based on its review of Namibia’s compliance with the Convention Against Race Discrimination, on August 15, 2008, the CERD Committee issued Concluding Observations for the Namibian Government drawing upon the suggested recommendations in the joint IWHRC and LAC submission addressing sex and race discriminatory customary laws on inheritance and marriage.

The CERD Committee of international experts officially reiterated that it “remains concerned about aspects of customary laws of certain ethnic groups on personal status that discriminate against women and girls, including laws pertaining to marriage and inheritance.” In para. 11 of the Concluding Observations, the Committee recommended “in particular that Namibia urgently ensure that its laws, especially on marriage and inheritance, do not discriminate against women and girls of certain ethnic groups. It invites the State party to consider introducing a system which allows individuals a choice between customary law systems and the national law while ensuring that the discriminatory aspects of customary laws are not applied.”

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