THE Namibian government is set to pay out millions in financial settlements to those accused in the Caprivi high treason secession case, who were either discharged or acquitted after languishing for over a decade in jail in the longest trial in that country’s democratic history.
According to a report in the Windhoek Observer, the Namibian government is in the process of paying out settlements to about 79 men who were part of the 121 accused who in 1999 went on trial for alleged deadly secessionist uprisings in the then Caprivi Region, now renamed Zambezi Region of the South West African nation.
However, Attorney General Sackeus Shanghala this week declined to be drawn into answering questions about the imminent settlement and promised to deliver a statement in the National Assembly on the matter.
“The Attorney General will in the forthcoming sitting of the National Assembly, make pronouncements relating to the Caprivi treason trial and the civil cases. Until then, I am not at liberty to discuss matters relating to matters which are sub judice,” Shanghala responded to journalists.
He clarified that the Caprivi treason trial had yielded Section 174 discharges, where some of the accused were discharged without having to defend themselves, after the state presented its case.
The 1999 attacks, triggered by the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA), shoot Namibia and resulted in a state of emergency being declared in that region. The group of 121 were charged with high treason, murder, sedition and many other offences, eventually facing over 270 counts relating to criminal conduct.
The Windhoek Observer further reports that of the 121 men who went on trial before Judge Elton Hoff at the end of October 2003, 44 were eventually discharged by the High Court after the prosecution closed their case.
In September last year, 35 accused were found not guilty on the main charge of high treason and related counts. Only 30 accused were found guilty and subsequently sentenced.
Albert Kawana, Namibia’s justice minister, refused to give details of the budget set aside for the settlement payouts to those that wanted to sue the state fin view of their lengthy trial and incarcerations.
“It is the Attorney General’s responsibility to take care of that and it is not a ministerial duty for me. If there will be any settlement, his office will do that,” Kawana said.
NamRights director Phil ya Nangoloh said the government was paying the settlements because it had violated the law on torture.
“This is regardless of whether treason has been committed or not. So, yes I expected government to pay for violating the law. As a matter of fact, government must pay also for the unlawful and false arrest and detention of those who were found not guilty.”
Former Legal Assistance Centre lawyer, Werner Boesak said settling the Caprivi treason trial lawsuits will boost the country’s international reputation.
“It is also my considered view as an outsider in this matter, and from the knowledge that we all have as citizens, that it might be a very sensible step to take by government, not to mention that it might augur well for our international reputation, since we did not subject these persons to a further court enquiry pertaining to what may be a clear-cut issue of damages, which arose due to [possibly] an overzealous reaction by security authorities at a certain point in time, which led to arrest, detention and criminal trial proceedings of certain accused persons, who might not have played a role in the secessionist activities in the former Caprivi Region,” Boesak told the Windhoek Observer.
Patrick Kauta, a lawyer who represented two of those who were acquitted said no amount of money can repair the damage caused to this group of people who were innocently held in jail for such a long time.
“It is a good step for government to do that [payout]. They have gone through a lot, absence from home, not seeing their children growing up,” said Kauta.