Archive for the ‘San peoples battle to live inCentral Kalahari Game Reserve’ Category

BERLIN – Vienna + 20: UN Human Rights Council Director Bacre Waly Ndiaye opening speech “Human Rights are indivisible”

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
Bacre Waly Ndiaye, the Director Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Conference

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, the Director Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Conference

BERLIN, 15 April 2013:

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, the Director Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Conference reminded everyone about the history of the United Nations battle for human rights in his opening address to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Vienna World Conference “Vienna + 20”, which hosted by the Human Rights Forum Menschenrechte und das Deutsche Institut für Menschenrechte in Berlin.

Vienna + 20

Opening address by Bacre Waly Ndiaye
Director Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Berlin, 15 April 2013

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to journey back into the past, and to measure the distance we have covered since the Vienna World conference on human rights, 20 years ago.

It is also an occasion for me to recall and pay homage to Stéphane Hessel, for whom it is my heart-felt and painful duty to replace at this podium.

A diplomat, writer, member of the French Resistance and survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, Stéphane Hessel was an inspiring and beloved example of humility, clarity, perception and depth, and I believe I speak for many of the people in this room when I say that I sorely miss his presence among us today.

I met Stéphane Hessel in Strasbourg in January 1993, at a cross-regional preparatory meeting for the Vienna conference which was being held under the auspices of the Council of Europe. It was barely six months before the conference was due to take place, and the general assumption was that it was going to be a failure. A failure so terrible that it might even lead to a roll-back of human rights protection around the world.

Despite the efforts of some leaders, including former US President Jimmy Carter, there were many disagreements on the agenda. Like the 1968 Tehran conference, 25 years before Vienna, it seemed that the delegations would break apart into blocs, each grasping tightly onto their highly fortified positions — the Western countries favouring the primacy, or exclusivity, of civil and political rights; the East bloc and many developing nations arguing for economic and social rights above all.

In addition, there was a bloc of countries pushing for what they called “third generation” human rights; these spanned a number of variously defined group rights and collective rights. And there was another sizeable group of countries who vigorously argued that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was in some deep sense the product of a specifically Western culture, possibly imposed by colonial powers, and that in reality human rights should be understood to vary according to the characteristics and traditions of different cultures, so as to accommodate the peoples that were not around the table in 1948.

These were some very deep, very sharp differences — potentially irreconcilable. Moreover, as many of you here today will recall, the world was undergoing a series of tectonic shifts at that time, and some of them seemed extremely ominous.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall had created a global surge of hope, and indeed it was the main factor that had inspired the Vienna conference to be called in the first place. It had seemed to be the right moment for a new world to review its agenda for human rights, from basic principles to implementation.

But at the same time, the cannons were rumbling just next door, in the former Yugoslavia. There were charnel houses and killing fields less than a day’s drive from the conference rooms where our meeting was to take place.

It was in this difficult, conflicted period — the run-up to what promised to be a very trying conference — that I met Stéphane Hessel on a bus. We were both on our way to the Palais de l’Europe, in Strasbourg. I had no inkling that he was an Ambassador, or that he had worked at the UN during the process of writing the Universal Declaration, or that he was in fact one of the leading figures in our modern human rights landscape. What I knew from the start was that he was friendly, funny, humble, with a sharp mind and no pretensions whatsoever. He was in his mid 70s, though he looked far younger, and he could recite the entire Universal Declaration by heart. Over dinner, poetry spooled out of him. He was both a learned man and completely devoid of ego. It was a joy and a never ending lesson of life to be in his company.

It turned out that Stéphane Hessel had been asked to chair the discussion on the relationship between human rights, development and democracy at that preparatory conference in Strasbourg. And I, who was then the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, had been invited to preside the commission on the protection of human rights and development. So we did have quite a lot of work to do in common together with President Mary Robinson of Ireland who volunteered to be the rapporteur of the cross regional Strasbourg conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As our working relationship blossomed, we watched the larger process of developing consensus in Vienna unfold. Just a few weeks before the Vienna conference, Ibrahima Fall, the Secretary-General of the conference, still had quite literally hundreds of parentheses on his draft document for consensus. But gradually those parentheses fell away, and were replaced by agreement.

The key point, I now believe, was acceptance of what became almost a magic formula: the universality, indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights. This was the single factor that was most responsible for crafting the agreement that ultimately emerged. It allowed a number of States that had been resisting the entire notion of economic and social rights – because they saw them as a laundry-list of aspirations rather than rights intrinsic to human dignity and freedom – to take these economic and social rights on board, and it really anchored them within our discussions.

For example, the right to development. Several delegations would essentially get up and leave the room if a discussion of the right to development was tabled. There was a very binary mindset: either political rights, OR economic rights. But if you phrased this as indivisibility — as an inter-related and inter-dependant constellation of human rights, each of them a meaningful contribution to enjoyment of the others — those same delegations would stay in the room.

The debate regarding the alleged cultural specificities of human rights was resolved in a manner that to me seemed to strongly recall the legacy of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which had been adopted in 1981. Ibrahima Fall was indeed a member of the drafting Committee of the African Charter. The African Charter states that ”civil and political rights cannot be dissociated from economic, social and cultural rights in their conception as well as universality “ and makes liberal reference to the primordial importance of rights and freedoms in traditional African cultures. It seeks, in its article 29, to preserve and reinforce Africa’s positive cultural values. (One example of those values would be the traditional freedom accorded to griots to criticize without risk of reprisals the conduct of the powerful. This in a sense prepares the way for freedom of expression and information).

This approach — of working with positive traditional values to strengthen attachment to the rights laid down in the Universal Declaration — was a particularly interesting one, given that African countries could not easily be suspected of seeking a colonial domination over other regions. As I’ve noted, in the run-up to Vienna a number of countries were asserting that human rights varied according to national and regional characteristics. These were countries which had not been present in 1948, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, because they did not at that time yet exist. The underlying notion was that criticism of your government for its failure to respect individual liberty and dignity was a kind of betrayal, a form of cultural imperialism, so that such critics were somehow working in the service of foreign, possibly colonial, interests.

I had myself an experience of this kind and had to confront the then President of Benin, Mathieu Kerekou, while leading an Amnesty International delegation.

Of course all countries are not the same, and all voices must, naturally, be heard. But these cultural specificities in no way erode the universality of human rights. Indeed aspiration to equality of all human beings, in dignity and rights inspired the fight against colonialism and doctrines of racial or cultural superiority. And the formula that ultimately created consensus on this point was: you choose your path, but the goal is something we hold in common. Your specificity will influence your way to advance towards the common goal, but that goal — of human dignity and human freedom, via the specific human rights elucidated in the International Bill of Rights — is something we share.

This inclusive approach, which wraps in the resilience and flexibility of every culture’s traditions to strengthen a common goal, has since then been used many times, to shield the International Bill of Rights from various specious attempts to alter its integrity with claims of cultural or religious singularity.
And so the Vienna Declaration became one of the strongest human rights documents of the past century. It emphasized that human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, and took the key notion of universality a step further by committing States to the promotion and protection of all human rights “regardless of their political, economic, and cultural systems.”
Dear Participants,
What emerged from Vienna was powerful new recognition of women’s rights as human rights. The Declaration called for universal ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the integration of women’s rights into all UN activities. It recommended adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and endorsed the creation of a Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.
Today, denial of rights to women — including sexual violence and domestic violence, subjects that had always been conceived as private crimes rather than human rights issues — are the subject of detailed reports by all the world’s governments in the course of the remarkable Universal Periodic Review, and this concerted global scrutiny of a long-neglected subject is just one of the many achievements of Vienna.
Mindful of the horrific abuse that continued in Bosnia, the Vienna conference was particularly vocal regarding impunity. Thus just one month after, the first ad hoc international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg was established, the Vienna Declaration encouraged the International Law Commission to push on with its work on establishing a permanent international criminal court.
A number of you in this room work closely on cases before the European Court of Human Rights, and you will understand the importance of this process.
The Vienna Declaration also amplified treaty implementation and their international and national monitoring. For instance, the Optional Protocols to the CAT, to CEDAW and to the ICESCR provide very important tools for the implementation of treaty bodies obligations; so is the expansion of special procedures to all sets of rights. It also called for new momentum in developing national human rights institutions. The thrust here was to “bring human rights home”.
This meant recognizing that human rights are not abstract words on an international treaty, but very real and practical rights to which every child, woman and man in every country are entitled.
They are also not limited to legal cases before the courts, but cut transversally across professions such as education, medicine and more.
National human rights institutions such as the German Institute of Human Rights — which was, I believe, set up following Vienna — are best placed to embed human rights into their home territory.
Vienna also acknowledged the crucial importance of civil society organizations. An unprecedented 800 NGOs were present, and they contributed with striking energy to the proceedings and to the mobilization of public opinion worldwide for a positive outcome of the Vienna Conferences.
Some of them are with us today in this room, as part of the German Human Rights Forum that was established following Vienna, and now counts 48 members.
But today we are seeing human rights NGOs under attack in several countries as “foreign agents” who face surveillance and even unacceptable reprisal. And I wonder, if Vienna were to be restaged today, whether they would be accorded as much prominence and respect as they were in 1993.
Women, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, representatives of minorities and migrants: individuals from all these groups testified to their experience at Vienna, and their concerns are reflected in the Declaration and Programme of Action. This laid the foundation for further development of international legal standards, their subsequent codification and establishment of means to encourage implementation.
Dear Friends,
It was also in Vienna that, upon an initiative from Amnesty International, NGOs pushed very hard for the creation of a High Commissioner for Human Rights. This was an old, blue-sky notion that had always seemed far too politically divisive and far-fetched to function. Most at the preparatory conference in Strasbourg thought it completely unrealistic. For one thing, how could the East bloc, the West and developing nations ever agree on who would become High Commissioner?

But the remarkable consensus that emerged, day after day, at the Vienna conference, made it possible for the idea of a High Commissioner to be accepted, too.

So as we discuss the legacy of the Vienna World Conference, we do also need to look at everything the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has achieved, because in a very real sense, OHCHR is the child of the Vienna Conference.

The post of High Commissioner was created to ensure that an independent, authoritative voice would speak out against human rights violations wherever they occur; to coordinate and supports the work of a range of different bodies; and to bring the weight of the United Nations to the work of supporting human rights for all.

With only two field presences in 1993, OHCHR now operates in 58 countries, and these field offices have increasingly played a human rights protection role — which is the ultimate aim of OHCHR — through their direct interventions, advocacy, monitoring, and contribution to legislative and policy reforms.

OHCHR has also become the focal point for commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions into violations of human rights and humanitarian law, whether through mandates of the Human Rights Council, the Security Council, the Secretary-General or upon the High Commissioner’s own initiative.

In addition to ensuring that human rights promotion and protection has become an integral feature of the UN’s peacekeeping and peace building, OHCHR has endeavoured to be increasingly responsive to crises, with a rapid response capability. The Office deploys staff for human rights monitoring or assessments in cases of deteriorating human rights situations, and recently has participated in UN responses to humanitarian crises such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010. These crisis response activities are increasingly contributing to the fight against impunity, and have been paving the way for international criminal investigations opened by the ICC.
In order to play a key role in UN efforts in the most critical situations, OHCHR must continue to expand its crisis capabilities, and explore new opportunities to engage effectively. In the late 90s it became a key member of the UN prevention and early warning framework team. The recent establishment of the UN Operations and Crisis Centre is an opportunity to provide more early-warning and crisis-related human rights information to senior decision-makers. But becoming a more systematic, operational and predictable actor in humanitarian and human rights crisis response remains a challenge.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Alongside the Office of the High Commissioner, the entire human rights system of the UN has grown stronger since Vienna.
The Human Rights Council began its work in 2006, replacing the Commission on Human Rights. The Council has gained credibility for its brave and steadfast positions in the face of controversy. It has adopted approximately 456 resolutions which address a wide range of issues, some of them very sensitive — such as the protection of human rights on the Internet — and others serving to create a consensus on thorny issues such as “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief.”
In particular, the Human Rights Council has been notable for its successful management of the unique and remarkable Universal Periodic Review. This process — which examines every UN Member State’s human rights record without exception — requires governments to take charge of assessing and challenging each other’s detailed submissions regarding human rights measures in a number of specific topics, including women’s rights, domestic violence and gender-based discrimination. Other stake-holders, including non-governmental organizations, UN country teams, Treaty body experts and Special Rapporteurs, may also be involved in these Universal Periodic Reviews, and I can assure you that it is often a very powerful process.
During its first cycle, which ended in 2011, the Universal Periodic Review examined every UN Member State’s human rights record without exception, and it is now embarked on a second cycle. Implicit in this cycle is the need for every country to make progress regarding a number of benchmarks and recommendations that arose during the first round. Noting that the entire UPR procedure is also webcast — and thus available not only live but also permanently via the Internet — I think there can be no person in this room who does not appreciate what a ground-breaking process the UPR really is, and its potential for creating real advances in human rights in countries across the globe.
In June 1993, there were just 26 Special Procedures with thematic or country-based mandates. Today there are 48 separate mandates with 72 experts appointed by the Council. This combination of independence, expertise and UN-bestowed authority is a powerful one.
The human rights treaty bodies have also grown in number and weight. Two major new international treaties – on Persons with Disabilities and Disappearance – and nine important substantive and procedural Optional Protocols have been adopted since Vienna. In 1993, the seven treaties and protocols had received 742 ratifications by States. That number has grown to 2010 ratifications of 18 treaties and protocols.
Dear Participants
If we were to gather again in Vienna today, would we have a better text, or would the final declaration fall back from our 1993 commitments?

The global context was ominous in 1993, and it is ominous again now.

I refer not only to the upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa over the past two years, and to the crisis in the Sahel, but also to the painful global financial and economic crises and threats to the environment that make Vienna’s focus on economic, social and cultural rights especially relevant. Migrants, minorities and indigenous peoples remain the most vulnerable; the low ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families is a matter of great concern.

In addition, terrorism and counter-terrorism have created a situation that seems to once more call into question rights we had thought were agreed on for good. I refer of course to acts of forced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture which pull us back to practises unbefitting of mankind.
There has been significant progress since Vienna in tackling impunity for international crimes. In particular, ad hoc tribunals such as those for Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cambodia, but also the establishment of the International Criminal Court — the world’s first permanent tribunal with powers to prosecute suspected perpetrators of international crimes.
Yet here too, we still have a long way to go. The ICC can only become involved if the State concerned is among the 122 State Parties to the Rome Statute, or if a situation is referred to it by the Security Council. Two important situations – Darfur in 2008, and Libya in 2011 — have been referred, but the Security Council has so far failed with regard to Syria, despite OHCHR’s repeated reports of widespread or systematic crimes and violations.
Despite some truly inspiring advances in combating impunity and ensuring accountability both internationally and at the national level, far too many people with command responsibility continue to escape justice following gross human rights violations. Since Vienna, hundreds of thousands of people have died in genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia Herzegovina. The Palestinian territories are still occupied. Massive violations have occurred in Iraq and Sri Lanka. And war crimes continue to be committed in numerous internal conflicts, including those in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Syria and Sudan.
Moreover, despite tremendous progress, there continues to be some resistance within the UN and the international community regarding the priority that needs to be given to human rights issues. The economic context affects the UN as a whole, but has particular impact on OHCHR, which has since its inception been financially fragile. For many years, limited funding to OHCHR (we painfully moved from 1% to 3% of the UN regular budget) revealed unwillingness to support a strong human rights mandate, and this problem may re-emerge.
Many other challenges will face us in coming years. The spectre of discrimination and prejudice continues to fall across entire communities, creating obstacles to free choice, twisting lives, inciting hate and violence on the basis of perceived differences in birth or belief. Thus, because of spurious assertions based on national, ethnic or racial origin or religion, Muslim, Jews, Roma, Christians and indigenous people live, in various regions, under the threat of violence, and are prevented from playing full roles in their society.
Another example of such prejudice is the problem of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Recently there has been significant movement, including the first formal UN debate on the issue, which took place in March 2012 at the Human Rights Council. The atmosphere at the outset was tense and some States walked out rather than engage in discussion. There was also a walk out at the Durban Review conference against Racism and Xenophobia in 2008. But different States were involved and the very fact that there was a structured, formal debate among States was in itself a step forward.
Yet another thorny topic that will require sustained attention in years to come is helping companies and corporations to develop human rights agendas. Important economic actors, both transnational and national, need to understand the nature and legal protection of economic, social and cultural rights; the right to health; the right to housing; and, the right to water. We will also need to provide training and support for partners engaged in the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, including NGOs, judges, lawyers, and national human rights institutions, as well as civil servants and regulators.
In fact, in a more general sense, translating States’ human rights commitments into reality is perhaps the single most important challenge of our time, following a long period devoted more to standard-setting. The demand on OHCHR’s field offices for technical assistance has increased steadily, and national human rights institutions can also play a crucial role. We also need to enhance the United Nations’ ability to improve the human rights of all. And this means we must also continue striving to mainstream human rights throughout the UN system, particularly in terms of the UN’s development agenda. This mainstreaming has been something of a challenging process, to date, but as part of drawing up post 2015 goals, we have seen some significant advances, including on 30 September 2010 when, under the leadership of High Commissioner Navi Pillay, 16 UN agencies agreed on a joint declaration on the human rights of migrants in irregular situation. Human rights are now much more widely regarded as indispensible assets, and, indeed, as the foundations, of a global partnership for development.

Dear Participants,

As we embark today on an agenda that promises to be rich with insight and practical advice, it seems to me I can do no better than to urge all of you to honour the memory of Stéphane Hessel, by striving for a world in which his vision of human freedom and dignity can be realized in the spirit of article 28 of the UDHR. All of us, I believe, are convinced that this world can only come about if there is greater accountability, the complete elimination of discrimination and prejudice, a more equitable allocation of resources, and a globalized freedom from want and from fear. Laws and international bodies are a necessary baseline, but the real work is to strengthen the “girdle of brotherly hands”, and of equally sisterly hands to make human rights, at last, a reality for all.

Thank you.

VIDEO: San people endless legal battle to live in peace on their land

Thursday, March 28th, 2013
San people removed from their land (Roy Sesana), Botswana(VIDEO Earth Peoples)

San people removed from their land (Roy Sesana), Botswana(VIDEO Earth Peoples)

Watch Earth Peoples Video:
San people removed from their land (Roy Sesana), Botswa

Updates on Kalahari Bushmen launch new legal battle:

The Bushmen are taking the Botswana government to court for the third time in their struggle to live in peace on their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Bushmen in Botswana are taking the government to court for illegally refusing them access to their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Approximately 700 Bushmen who were evicted from the CKGR in 2002 won a marathon High Court battle in 2006 for the right to return, but the government has since done everything it can to limit the number of Bushmen who can live there.

– The government claims the ruling applies only to the 189 Bushmen named in the original court papers – it refuses to allow the others to enter the reserve without a permit. Permits last just a month, after which the Bushmen risk arrest if they ‘overstay’.

– Even the children of the 189 Bushmen named in the court papers are only allowed free entry to the reserve up to the age of 16, after which they too are only allowed in on month-long permits.

– Wildlife scouts are prohibiting the passage of livestock and donkeys essential for transport.

– No Bushmen have been given hunting permits in the reserve, making their subsistence hunting impossible.

In 2006 Botswana’s High Court ruled that the Bushmen have the right to live and hunt in the CKGR, without having to apply for permits to enter it.

One Bushman told Survival, ‘[Having to apply for a permit] makes me feel homeless. We don’t know when we will be stopped or our permits taken away. I want to be at my own home and not have to depend on someone else’s permission to be there.’

This will be the third time the Bushmen have been forced to resort to the courts in their struggle to live in peace on their land.

The historic 2006 judgement confirmed that the Bushmen have the right to live and hunt inside the CKGR – without having to apply for permits to enter it.

Harassment, intimidation and arrests of Bushmen for hunting have also been on the rise in recent months. In November last year, two Bushmen were badly beaten and tortured for hunting, and three Bushmen children were arrested for carrying antelope meat in January.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, ‘The government is continuing to defy Botswana’s highest court and its constitution, for no apparent purpose. The people of Botswana are hardly likely to welcome another complete waste of taxpayers’ money on fighting yet another court case. The government has been trying to evict the Bushmen for over 30 years. Isn’t it about time that Botswana’s first citizens were allowed to live on their own land in peace?’

Article © Cultural Survival

1000 Himba+Zemba march again in protest, angered by Namibia’s human rights violations and against plans to build Orokawe dam in the Baynes Mountains

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Namibia: Growing frustration in Kaokoland: 1000 Himba and Zemba protest again against dam and human rights violations, March 25, 2013

By Rebecca Sommer

Indigenous Himba and Zemba Protest (March 25, 2013) Photo © Earth Peoples

Indigenous Himba and Zemba Protest (March 25, 2013) Photo © Earth Peoples

EARTH PEOPLES- Namibia, March 26, 2013: Yesterday, about a 1000 Himba and Zemba held a protest march in Opuwo to show the Government of Nambia (GoN) that they had enough.

This was the third protest in a row, but by far the largest.

The two Indigenous semi-nomadic tribes, from the semi-desert northern region of Namibia, began their well-organized and peaceful protest march outside Opuwo town. They came from all directions and remote areas of their traditional territory, Kaokoland, despite prevailing drought conditions due to Climate Change, and their growingly frantic search for grazing and water for their livestock.

Each Himba and Zemba community sent members that they could spare, while those staying behind tended to the needs of their goats, sheep and cattle that are increasingly weakened by the drought, upon which the Himba and Zemba depend for their very survival.

Himba girl with goat (Photo © Rebecca Sommer)

Himba girl with goat (Photo © Rebecca Sommer)

The drought has caused already enormous damage for the self-sufficient semi-nomads, with nearly no rain they weren’t able to farm their gardens, thus they have no maize and other nutritional crops.
The indigenous peoples have already called on government to subsidize fodder for their livestock, and to look into improving the distribution of drought relief food. The community made formal requests to the chairperson of the Kunene Regional Council’s Management Committee, Dudu Murorua, at Opuwo.

But as much as they fear for their livestock and to face soon hunger and thirst, they are also hungry and thirsty for something else: Their human rights. They want to see changes, and they want to be heard by the majority tribe’s party SWAPO, that rules the Government of Namibia.

The Himba and Zemba protest is about their continuous human rights grievances, which made headlines in Namibia and the world after being published for the first time in form of three Declarations signed by all the traditional Himba and Zemba chiefs at the beginning of last year.
On behalf of the Himba and Zemba, the international human rights group Earth Peoples submitted the Declarations to the United Nations system.




Months later, the United Nations Special Reporter visited the Himba and Zemba and met them in Opuwo, were Himba read their Declaration and handed him another copy, this time in person.
The UN Special Rapportuer Anaya confirmed in his Statement the human rights violations that he had heard the Himba people are facing, which can be read here

Police Car blocking street of Himba and Zemba protest (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Police Car blocking street of Himba and Zemba protest (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Yesterday, when the protesting indigenous tribes arrived near Opuwo town, a Namibian police car blocked the road in front of the marching masses but the Himba and Zemba just passed the police car calmly and peacefully.

Once in the center of Opuwo’s, usually quite empty with nothing much happening there, the streets were flooded by hundreds and hundreds of singing and dancing people, walking towards the place where they were going to meet the governor of the Kunene Region Joshua /Hoebeb.

A letter from the Himba and Zemba letter addressed to the Governor December 5, 2012, remained up-to-date of the protest unanswered. (Read the first Himba Zemba letter to the governour)

Until finally, a security tape was blocking the agreed meeting area.

Himba and Zemba at protest against dam: March 25, 2013 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Himba and Zemba at protest against dam: March 25, 2013 (Photo © Earth Peoples)

It was a stark contrast, when the governor finally arrived, as can be seen on the photograph. There was a visible barrier of a flimsy yellow security tape between the governmental authority, and the indigenous peoples of the country that are seeking a dialogue and answers to their pressing human rights grievances that they feel have not been addressed.

To the surprise of the Himba and Zemba, governor Joshua /Hoebeb read with a stiff voice a prepared speech, and instead of looking at them and into the eyes of the indigenous leaders in front of him, his eyes were locked on paper.

Instead of having a dialogue with the people, which was what they had envisioned, he chose to underline the fact, that there is the government on one side of the security barrier, flimsy as it was, and the people on the other side of it.

Governor of the Kunene Region Joshua //Hoebeb at Himba Zemba protest (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Governor of the Kunene Region Joshua //Hoebeb at Himba Zemba protest (Photo © Earth Peoples)

But Himba and Zemba waited patiently that he would finish reading from his paper, because they wanted answers, and wanted to heard.

The governor accused in his speech a white supporter that would help the Himba and Zemba with their unreasonable requests, such as the demand to stop any further plans to construct the Orokawe dam (Neckartal Dam project) in the Baynes Mountains. He didn’t explained what kind of help he was referring to. He also accused the Himba and Zemba of being too emotional about the entire issue, and mocked the protesters that their march would bring no results, and informed that there will be held a referendum and that the 88 thousand inhabitants of the Kunene region will decide on the dam. He explained to the Himba and Zemba that the GoN would work hard to resolve the lack of adequate doctors in hospitals, and that the people must be patient, it wouldn’t be that easy as they would think. He didn’t mention anything about the grievance of the leaders, that Ovatwa, a Himba group of hunters and gatherers, are being held up-to-date in a Camp like prisoners or refugees, in the area of chief Kapika. Or why the Government of Namibia is refusing to recognize their rights to culturally appropriate education.

After the speech of the Governor, a young man read the peoples grievances which was translated. A senior Himba headman had a few words. He said that they are not stupid, that they did not come from all directions of Kaoko, to be treated without respect and to listen to empty words, as if they are not intelligent to understand that they meant nothing.

Himba and Zemba at Zemba Himba (Photo © Earth Peoples)

Himba and Zemba at Zemba Himba (Photo © Earth Peoples)

That they came to hand over their complaints, as well as a letter directed to the President, and that they want answers. A Himba protester, holding a protest banner that read “We Himba and Zemba are also humans” stood next to him.

The headman reminded the governor that Kunene is not the original traditional territory of the Himba people, and those areas such as Outjo and Kamanjab would have nothing to do with the Himba and Zemba in the north. That Kaokoland is the land that they are inhabiting for centuries, and that they have the right to decide if they want such a large destructive dam project that would negatively affect them.

He began to outline their repeated reasons why the Himba do not want the construction of the dam, all that can be found in their numerous letters written to governmental authorities including to the Governor, as well as in the Declarations. But the governor, saying that they are unreasonable, cut him short with the promise that he in person would come out and consult with the chiefs and convince them about the dam.

The people met his comment with an uproar, saying that they are not to be forced, nor to be convinced, united they say said “no” to the dam, and that the government should respect that.

The senior headman continued that the Himba and Zemba don’t believe that the GoN was going to allocate more funds to address the shortage of doctors. “The apartheid regime left us with no doctors. But after 24 years the new government could still not solve the problem”, he said.
A female Himba protester said, “Do they really think the Himba and Zemba are that stupid? How many of our problems were addressed? Did the Government of Namibia, or any official, including you (the governor) , came to consult with us? No.”

The Himba and Zemba handed the governor a second letter addressed to the President, signed by the traditional Himba leaders, and left. disappointed.

The governor promised that the President would receive the letter tomorrow (Read Letter to President here:

It will be interesting to see, if the President of Namibia after receiving the letter feels that it is time to speak to two tribes living in his country, that have a very differentiated way of life, customs and culture as the rest of the citizens, and that are clearly not happy.

The Himba and Zemba wrote an additional letter to the Head Office of Ombudsman John Robert Walters, which they will deliver tomorrow to the regional office in Oshakati.

They also forwarded sans of the original signed letters to international human rights group Earth Peoples, with the request to submit them to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as to the UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya. They also mailed today copies to Earth Peoples partners Namrights, a Namibian human rights organization that will forward the letters to the African Union.

What is important to mention, the Himba and Zemba had previously a meeting with solar experts, that gave them an overall view about the possibilities of green, alternative energy that would not block the Kunene River, and would not have the negative impacts on the environment. Also the flooding of the forefather’s graves of the Himba, as well as forced resettlement of the the indigenous peoples wouldn’t be necessary.

Earth Peoples received two days ago notes of a discussion that the Himba and Zemba had over the weekend while gathering in Opuwo for their protest march, in which the Himba that had the meeting with the solar experts shared what they have learned about the alternative of solar, and the hydroelectric dam. Here are the points that the Himba and Zemba would have liked to discuss further with the Governor:

NOTES: Pro and Contra — Dam / Solar:

Orokawe dam in the Baynes Mountains:

• Will cost a minimum of 22bn N$ if not more
• Will need a complete overhauled stronger power line from the dam site to Omburo
• Will have a surface of 5900ha, which evaporates 590000 tones of water per day, which is in the region of 20% from the low-season run-off
• Will take minimum 10 years to come online
• Will need a lengthy power contract to be signed with Angola
• Will need to share the power 50/50 with Angola
• Will only be a peaking station because not enough water to run the 600MW turbines 24/7 (Only 1.7 TWh energy for the year vs. 5.0 TWh (if water would be enough)
• Will again not be Namibia’s own power because of the sharing
• Will again mean an investment that puts all eggs in one basket relying on the Kunene
• Will cause forced resettlement
• Will destroy special safety areas for indigenous peoples livestock at drought
• Will destroy sacred sites of indigenous peoples
• Will destroy special medicine plant areas of the Himba and Ovazemba
• Will damage the River
• Would make no sense in a country were Water is so rare
• Will damage fish stock
• Will cause enormous environmental impact
• Will cause large destruction of nature by building road construction grids
• Will violate human rights, UNDRIP, FPIC, ILO Nr 169
• Will harm tourism long-term

Solar at locations of need for energy:

• Take up only 900 ha for the same output (1.7 TWh per year)
• Cost 15 bn without storage for the same output (without storage)
• Storage for Solar becomes more and more available with new technologies and would cost together with solar roughly then the same as Baines
• Solar could be built where the need for power is and not in the most remote corner of the country with all the losses involved
• Solar could start right now and would be built as appropriate installments; no need to pre-finance in one go!!
• Solar would really be NAM’s own indigenous energy solution
• Solar investments will attract all the money in the world, hydro investments for Kaoko will not.
• Solar would means appropriate power for the Himba’s own use for energy and water pumping etc.
• Solar will give the people modern energy AND much more time to adapt!
• Would make Namibia stand out for it’s green, environmental and human rights friendly energy approach
• Would make sense in such a hot, sunny country
• Would get more funds from international sources to implement green energy as well as for Climate Change adaptation and mitigation measures
• Would be longer lasting, as Climate Reports estimate the increasing reduction of waters in Kunene
• Solar would be supported by the worlds’ tourists, the public is aware about the damages of dams
• Could be negotiated with the Himba people, and places for grids could be agreed upon
• Solar would be good for the Climate, Namibia’s Nature, Cunene River, and good for Namibia’s people