The extension of the Legal Assistance Centre's representation into more and more rural areas has gone hand in hand with its expansion into the area of land reform and development, through the Land, Environment and Development (LEAD) Project.
The LEAD Project was launched in 1997 in recognition of the fact that many future human rights issues in Namibia are likely to involve decisions about and competition over the ownership and development of land and other natural resources.
The LEAD Project is often called upon to advise communities on land and environmental rights, developmental options in tourism and communal land initiatives such as communal area conservancies.
The LEAD Project's primary aim is to address the needs of the rural poor by cooperating with government and NGOs working in the relevant field. The project is designed along the following interrelated lines:
- Research, lobbying and law reform.
- Legal training on laws relating to land and environmental issues for farmers, small-scale enterprises and NGOs.
- Providing educational materials to support training.
- Extending advice, mediation and litigation services on land, environment and development issues to rural communities.
The LEAD Project has been very active in all these spheres since its inception.
Building on the experience of key conferences like the 1991 National Land Conference and 1994 People's Land Conference, the LEAD Project has played a key role in the NGO Working Committee on Land Reform and has made representations to the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement & Rehabilitation regarding discrepancies between the National Land Policy and the then Communal Land Reform Bill – the Bill was passed by Parliament in 2002 and became law on 1 March 2003. In 2002 the Project published a report titled "One day we will all be equal" – the outcome of a two year socio-legal research study into Namibia's land reform and resettlement process.
At the 22nd Session of the ACP-EU Joint Assembly held in Namibia in March 1996, a resolution was passed recognising 'the special difficulties encountered in integrating hunting and gathering people in agricultural states', and calling for 'a comprehensive study of the San people in light of international conventions'.
To that end, the Project conducted a research study and in 2000 published a five volume report titled A Regional Assessment of the San in Southern Africa with funding from the European Union. The research report is a country-specific study of the human rights situation of the San in Botswana, South Africa, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. One volume in the series focused on gender issues in relation to the San communities.
The LEAD Project has embarked on extensive information and training efforts on the new Communal Land Reform Act. Communal area conservancies, chiefs and traditional authorities, women farmers and farmers' unions are continuously being involved in information and training workshops all over the country.
The LEAD Project, together with the Directorate of Environmental Affairs of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Office of the Attorney-General, in a joint project, reviewed and redrafted Namibia's environmental legislation.
As a result, a draft of the Environmental Management Bill was produced and submitted to government in 1998, and the drafting of an Integrated Pollution Control and Waste Management Bill was completed in 1999. Other bills into which the Project has made significant input include the Tourism Bill, Aquaculture Bill, Forestry Bill, Fisheries Bill and Environmental Investment Fund Bill.
IN RECENT YEARS
The Project has been litigating on behalf of women and children in property rights matters, especially in terms of inheritance laws.
Much of this work is focused on women and property rights, especially under customary laws. Apart from litigation and legal advice to mainly rural women and children, the Project conducts training workshops on women and property rights with women, chief and traditional authorities, staff of government departments and non-governmental organisations.
One of the more known land and environment rights cases that the Project is dealing with is the controversial 'Epupa case', wherein the Project provides legal assistance to the communities residing around the Epupa Falls area and who would be affected by a construction of the Epupa Hydro-electric dam.