10 Years On, Victims of Alleged Torture Wait in Prison
Nine years have passed since the early hours of 2 August 1999 when members of a secessionist group, the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), launched an armed attack on government forces and buildings in the regional capital of Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi region of north eastern Namibia.
According to official sources, the CLA attacked the police headquarters, the local offices of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, an army base and an immigration post. In the attacks, 11 people were killed, at least six of whom were members of the security forces.
That evening, then-President Samuel Nujoma declared a State of Emergency. A curfew was imposed in Katima Mulilo and Namibia's borders with Angola, Zambia and Botswana were closed.
More than 300 Initially Detained
After the initial assault, government forces repelled the attack and rounded up rebel fighters and suspected civilian sympathizers. Over 300 people were detained on suspicion of participating in the attack, sympathizing with the secessionists or assisting them to plan or launch the attacks.
During that time, most of the detainees stated that they were tortured at the time of their arrest and during interrogation. The detainees report that they were systematically punched, hit with rifles and beaten with sjamboks by members of the security forces, and were denied medical treatment.
Saviour Tutalife was one of the men rounded up after the attacks. He describes what happened.
In his Own Words:
“On the 9th of August 1999, I returned from in Botswana where I was staying. At that time, I presented myself to the tribal authorities to announce that I had returned. However, as I was going to the tribal authorities, I found two police officers who took me to the Katima Mulilo Police Station.
"Once inside the police station, I found approximately 12 police officers with sjamboks. They told me to lay down on my back. I did, and they started to whip me. Actually, I should not use the word whip or beat, because what happened was exceeding beating. They were flogging me, like I stole something important. But then one tall man, a white man, came and stopped them.
"Later, I was taken into an office. The police officers instructed me to take off all my clothes and I did so. Then they told me to take off my underwear. There were 4 women officers and 2 male officers there. Then, the warrant officer started flogging me with a sjambok onto my back. He started beating me and those four women also came and they joined and beat me. On my back I have got scars that indicate, the scars the emanated from the beating.
"After they beat me, the warrant officer instructed me to place my pointing figure into the floor and said I must rotate for 250 rounds. As I was rotating, I became dizzy, because that day I was not given anything to eat and then I fell down. When I fell, I was kicked in my left upper jaw and lost one of my premolar (tooth). Then he said I should not spit the blood inside his office, but to swallow the blood. I started swallowing the blood.
"Then after that, the warrant officer brought a plier or a clamp and then another plier and he punched onto my balls, my scrotum and another into my small finger. Then he gave the plier which was at his other hand to the lady, to pull, and then the lady could not do so, she refused. So then he pulled, pulled me towards where the lady was, even though I was naked. And then he pulled me, but then I started shouting, I cried out. Then with a high voice. Then the tall police officer came back and stopped them.
"After that they stopped. But after the tall police officer left, the warrant officer brought out a rifle and then he attached the bayonet at the front. Then he strengthened it. And then stabbed it to me, into my left thigh. I have got a scar there. After, he hit me with the bayonet, onto the left side of my face. I have another scar here…”
Acts of Torture Lead to Forced Confession
Mr. Tutalife goes on to detail how he was kicked in the ribs, in the groin, how again a cable was tied around his scrotum and it was pulled. Later, after the alleged beating stopped, Mr. Tutalife says he was taken to a small room, called the Killing Room, to spend the night. In that room, he says, a coffin with a dead body inside it, was also present. There was nothing to eat, no blanket to cover himself.
The following day, Mr. Tutalife says he was electrically shocked and fell unconscious. He points to more scars, on his head, that he says he sustained during the beatings after he returned to consciousness.
For 12 more days, Mr. Tutalife says he was routinely beaten and stayed in the Killing Room. Finally, on the 22nd of August, 1999, Mr. Tutalife was transferred to Grootfontein Prison and, a few days later, to Houmoed Police Camp near Gobabis. After two months, he was returned to Grootfontein and on 17 November 1999, more than three months after entering the Katima Police Station, he appeared in court.
The Long Wait for Accountability
Since 1999, the Legal Assistance Centre has fought tirelessly to represent the men rounded up during the Caprivi attacks in protection of their constitutional rights.
In 2008, more than 100 men involved in the Caprivi uprising remain in prison, despite never being convicted of a crime. A criminal trial is underway between the State and government-appointed attorneys representing the men. In a series of civil cases, the LAC continues to represent more than 100 clients that call on government to compensate the men who were victims of torture while in police custody in 1999.
In 2009, Mr. Tutalife's civil case was heard before the High Court. He asked for the people responsible for the acts of torture and for the Ministry responsible, to be held accountable. Judgment has been reserved.