Police top abuse list

The Ombudsman has singled out the police for flagrant human rights abuses meted out against suspects and detainees, ranging from overcrowded cells and starving inmates to assault.

13 September 2021 | Police

JEMIMA BEUKES







WINDHOEK

The Namibian police remain the biggest human rights offenders countrywide, with a total of 1 719 cases reported to the Ombudsman’s office between 2018 and 2020, a new report indicated.

The Office of the Judiciary and prisons and correctional services were also red-flagged by the report after more than 703 and 333 cases were registered against them during the same period respectively.

Some of the instances included the Coblenz Police Station, where police officers were accused of consuming food meant for the inmates, leaving them to starve.

At Grootfontein, 88 inmates were found cramped in unconducive holding cells with non-functioning toilets and showers while at the Otavi prison, 25 inmates were forced to go without toilet paper for a considerable time.

Meanwhile, during this reporting period, inmates at the Otjituuo Police Station reported that they were kept in a cell with two mentally challenged inmates who terrorised them, but police officers refused to put them in separate cells.

At the Onandjamba Police Station, it was found that six holding cells with a total capacity of 30 were overcrowded with 72 inmates in custody as a result of an inmate transfer from the Wakasamane border post and Oshikuku Police Station.

The Tsumeb Police Station was also found to be overcrowded, exceeding the capacity by at least three times due to the refusal of bail for trial-awaiting inmates and the fact that many cannot afford bail even once granted, the report noted.

Assault

Also at Tsumeb Police Station, an inmate complained that he was assaulted by a fellow detainee and in the process lost the tip of his finger, while the officers on duty refused to assist him in opening a case against the assailant.

At the Omuthiya Police Station, cells were overcrowded and the facility failed to adhere to the Covid-19 protocols, had no thermo guns, no separate cells for new inmates nor the capability to isolate those who exhibited Covid-19 symptoms.

Home affairs, immigration and safety and security minister Dr Albert Kawana said offenders within the police never go scot-free and are dealt with by the law.

“I really want to study that report carefully, but that is why I say we have systems, processes and institutions in place and aggrieved people go there for redress. Some of these matters have been settled out of the court or the police officers were arrested,” he said.

Police left ‘defenceless’

Police chief, Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga, said it is unfortunate that the police are singled out as the top human rights offenders when they are often “left defenceless against unruly inmates” who smuggle in contraband and dangerous weapons.

“There are also rude inmates who pour hot soup and porridge over the police officers or who assault and hurt other inmates.

“Yes, the fact remains that the cells are too overcrowded and it makes management of inmates impossible. In actual fact, remands are not supposed to be taken care of by police officers. The correctional facilities do not have remand cells and now the police are burdened, which makes the situation very cumbersome,” he said.

Abusing power

The Namibian police have come increasingly under fire for violating the rights of civilians and for arbitrary arrests.

In 2019, the Supreme Court awarded Bernhard Lazarus a victory after he sued the safety and security ministry for unlawfully arresting and detaining him as well as for the disappearance of N$300 000 from his vehicle. He also demanded N$70 000 for loss of profit during the time of his incarceration.

According to Lazarus, his bar was robbed in 2014 and his subsequent attempts to have the matter reported to the police failed as they refused to assist him.

He later contacted another police officer from the Serious Crime Unit who assisted him and visited his bar, however they later accused him of staging the burglary.

Police eventually returned to his bar and arrested him in full view of bar patrons without a warrant of arrest.

After keeping him in holding cells for a few days, they ransacked his property without a search warrant and eventually released him.

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