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Legal action planned if ship carrying weapons bound for Zimbabwe enters Namibia's port

21/04/2008: The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) is calling on all concerned citizens in Namibia to raise their voice against a Chinese vessel – the An Yue Jiang – loaded with weapons from docking in Namibia's shores.

It is reported that the vessel, which has applied for bunkering fuel at Walvis Bay, Namibia tomorrow morning (22 April 2008), is carrying 77 tonnes of weapons destined for Zimbabwe that reportedly includes three million rounds of ammunition, bombs, rockets and mortar tubes.

The ship left Durban last week after workers on the docks refused to unload the shipment. The LAC’s partners in South Africa – the Southern African Litigation Centre and the International Action Network on Small Arms – obtained a Court Order that the weapons could not be transported across South Africa. The vessel is now reportedly heading to either the port at Walvis Bay in Namibia or Luanda in Angola.

“Our concern is that Zimbabwe is a nation that has been in an escalating state of crisis,” said Norman Tjombe, a human rights lawyer and director of the Legal Assistance Centre in Windhoek. “To allow more weapons to enter Zimbabwe will only fuel more violence, with the serious consequence of more deaths and suffering.”

The escalating violation and suppression of human rights in Zimbabwe was exacerbated by the disputed March 2008 elections, of which the results have yet to be announced.

 “Namibia, and its institutions, such as the Namibia Ports Authority, has obligations under national and international law to foster international peace and the peaceful resolutions of disputes, and the responsibility and accountability in the regulation and control of the trade in conventional arms,” said Tjombe. “The Namibian Constitution obligates the Namibian State to promote international cooperation, peace and security and that it shall foster respect for international law and treaty obligations. Namibia is also signatory to several other international treaties, such as SADC Firearms Protocol, Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security, and the UN Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, which will all be violated by Namibia if allowing arms to enter Zimbabwe,” according to Tjombe.   

“In the light of these obligations, it will be prudent for the Namibia Ports Authority not to allow the offloading of the deadly cargo of the An Yue Jiang vessel if and when the vessel calls on any port in Namibia.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is reporting that violence has escalated and the further erosion of human rights in Zimbabwe has continued since the March 29 election. According to a April 19 press release by the international human rights organisation, a network of informal detention centres to beat, torture, and intimidate opposition activists and ordinary Zimbabweans have been established. Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who initially claimed victory after the March 29 election, announced that 10 of its supporters and officials had been killed, about 300 had been arrested and more than 3,000 forced from their homes on April 20.

In Namibia, Tjombe said that in the event that the cargo of the vessel is allowed to be offloaded and transported overland in Namibia, a Court Order would be sought to prohibit such an event.

“We nonetheless trust that Namibia would adhere to its obligations under the Constitution and international law, without the need for us to approach the High Court of Namibia,” Tjombe said.


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