July 27, 2004

Kawana urges traditional courts to respect the constitution

The community courts run by traditional authorities should keep in mind that the justice they dispense must also adhere to the standards set by the country's Constitution, Justice Minister Albert Kawana told traditional authorities during a workshop on the Community Courts Act that was passed by Parliament last year. He let know the participants that the Community Courts Act should empower traditional courts as under the new law they would be able to call on the Police to enforce their decisions. Previously traditional courts encountered difficulties when it came to enforcing their decisions. The Minister pointed out that traditional courts were the closest source of justice for many of Namibia's people like subsistence farmers who live in rural communities scattered across the country. These communities would usually turn to traditional authorities, who applied their customs and traditions in courts presided over by chiefs and headmen. They resolved disputes and dispensed justice, Kawana explained. Regarding this situation, he said that, "customary law and traditional courts enjoy wide acceptance among the Namibian people. It should always be remembered that customary law is not the law of the minority but the law of the majority of the people of Namibia. It is for this reason that Namibia should firmly reject cultural genocide that imperialists and neo-imperialists are trying to commit against the people of Africa. We should do away with the negative conception of regarding a civilised African as the one who speaks with a British or American accent."
Customary law and traditional courts did not only play an important part in the daily lives of many Namibians, but were also recognised by the Constitution, Kawana remarked. But he warned that, in administering community courts, traditional authorities should also stick to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The Minister stated that they had to avoid applying customary law that included torture, or, panel beating, because that was strictly prohibited by the supreme law of the land, the Namibian Constitution." He added that he was calling on traditional authorities to observe and protect fundamental human rights and freedoms that were guaranteed in the Constitution. "The core function of customary law in the administration of justice is to balance the rights of the accused person in civil cases with those of the victim." Kawana further stated that where it was proven that the accused person had committed a wrong against the victim, the victim was awarded compensation. That principle should continue to be the core function of the traditional authorities in the administration of justice. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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