July 21, 2003

Namibia urged to reject US immunity request

The National Society of Human Rights (NSHR) has welcomed Namibia's ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, it is urging lawmakers not to agree to requests from the United States for their soldiers to be granted immunity from prosecution in the new court.

Just over two weeks ago, the National Assembly ratified the agreement despite US threats that it would withdraw its aid if Namibia does not comply with the request. "We are urging Namibia to say no, even if it means a suspension of aid," NSHR Executive Director Phil ya Nangoloh told The Namibian last week. Earlier, the Namibian Defence Force's legal advisor, Colonel Veikko Kavungo, indicated that the Ministry had received a written request from the US requesting it to "advise" Government to sign a bilateral agreement in terms of Article 98.

The ICC is a United Nations body set up in 1998 to prosecute people who commit crimes against humanity anywhere in the world. It compels nations that sign the treaty to hand over suspects for trial. The court only came into operation this year with the signing of the Rome Statute. However, Article 98 of the ICC prevents the court from insisting that one country hands over a suspect who is a national of another state, if the surrender is in conflict with agreements of immunity between two governments.

Furthermore, the NSHR wants Government to adopt an Act of Parliament with identical content to the statute for it to become a rule of domestic law. But Justice Minister Albert Kawana told The Namibian that in terms of Article 144 of the Constitution, this is not necessary. According to this constitutional provision general rules of public international law and international agreements binding upon Namibia under the Constitution, form part of the country's laws.

Ya Nangoloh is, however, not happy with this explanation claiming that past experience has shown that this provision is applied at will. The society wants not only the Rome Statute, but all human rights treaties ratified by Namibia, to be incorporated into national law. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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