Namibia: Indigenous peoples “not seen promises of independence fulfilled”

By | 2 May, 2013


GENEVA (2nd May 2013) – Indigenous groups in Namibia, including the San and Himba people, continue to be particularly disadvantaged more than 20 years on from the country’s independence, a UN expert on indigenous rights says.

Since Namibia’s independence in 1990, the Government has made many significant achievements in rolling back some of the destructive legacies left by colonialism and apartheid,” said James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

But, Mr. Anaya said, the pervasive loss of land and resources by indigenous groups during colonialism and apartheid has not been overcome. “By all accounts, indigenous San groups in the country have experienced the greatest loss and resultant social, economic and cultural disruption,” he said.

Today San people use and occupy lands in Namibia under several different kinds of arrangements, with varying levels of security and control, “none of which are wholly adequate and without problems,” said the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. Anaya’s findings come in a report* published today on the situation of indigenous peoples in Namibia. His report provides several examples of innovative land restitution efforts and land management arrangements carried out by the Government.

However, the expert urged Namibia to “step up efforts to address problems of landlessness and land insecurity of San groups and do so, to the extent compatible with the rights of others, in accordance with their historical or traditional land tenure patterns”.

Mr Anaya noted that Namibia “is a country rich with diverse indigenous cultural and ethnic identities including those of indigenous peoples that have suffered marginalization in various aspects of life”.

He called on the Government to strengthen measures to ensure that minority indigenous peoples can survive with their cultures intact in the fullest sense, including in regard to their traditional lands, authorities, and languages.

The human rights expert also urged action to tackle the under-representation of indigenous peoples that are ethnically distinct from the majority tribes in decision-making at local and national levels.

This should include recognition of legitimate authorities selected in accordance with traditional processes, the Special Rapporteur said.

The report highlights positive developments, including in health and education.

But Mr. Anaya urged the Government “to review and reform laws and policies related to indigenous peoples as needed to ensure that they do not discriminate against particular indigenous groups, and that they accommodate to and strengthen cultural diversity and adhere to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Mr. Anaya’s report was developed on the basis of research and information gathered, including during a visit to the country from 20 to 28 September 2012. The Special Rapporteur met with Government and indigenous representatives in the capital, Windhoek.

He also met with representatives and members of numerous San groups including in the Nyae Nyae conservancy area in Tsumkwe; in the Bwabwata National Park in the Caprivi and Kavango regions; and in and around the Etosha National Park. He also met with representatives of the Ovahimba, Ovazemba and other indigenous peoples in Opuwo.

The Special Rapporteur will officially present his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland in September 2013.

The UN Human Rights Council appointed S. James Anaya (United States) as Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in March 2008. Mr. Anaya is a Regents Professor and the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:

(*) Check the report

See the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

UN Human Rights Country Page – Namibia:

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:

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