Lutherans say Namibia prosecution would bring conflict

By Ecumenical News International
October 5, 2007

A leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia says a move by a human rights group to bring former president Sam Nujoma before the International Criminal Court in The Hague might result in public violence or even civil war - writes Rodrick Mukumbira from Windhoek, Namibia.

"It needs a spark to start a fire," Bishop Thomas Shivute told Ecumenical News International citing youth and student demonstrations in support of Nujoma, who led the armed struggle for independence from South Africa and became the country's first president in 1990. Nujoma retired in 2005 after serving three presidential terms.

"All civil wars start with people waving placards then degenerate in stone throwing, which in most cases results in other forms of public violence, including the use of guns," said Shivute.

The International Criminal Court confirmed in August the lodging of a complaint by the National Society for Human Rights in Namibia. The group said Nujoma and three others should be investigated for crimes against humanity linked to the disappearances of Namibian exiles in Angola during the independence struggle fought by the South West African People's Organization, then led by Nujoma.

The allegations made by the human rights group relate to what it says was the disappearance of 4200 people during the guerrilla war. Many of those who disappeared are said to have been detained by SWAPO, which accused them of spying for South Africa.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia met with representatives of the human rights society to discuss a pastoral letter issued by the church, which accused the rights group of threatening national stability. The Namibian newspaper reported on 17 September that some pastors from the Namibian Lutheran church had refused to read the letter to their congregations.

Bishop Shivute said ELCIN offered during the meeting to mediate between the human rights agency and the government, which has said it will stand behind Nujoma, to find a peaceful solution to the impasse.

"We made it clear during the meeting that we are not defending or criticising anyone for any mistakes committed before and after independence," said Shivute. "The solution lies in forgiving one another or sitting down and talking through the problems."

The NSHR's executive director Phi ya Nangoloh has said he has received death threats from SWAPO activists over the ICC issue, but said his group would continue with the case.

"It is not for them [ELCIN] to tell us not to go to the courts," Dorkas Philemon, the human rights group's spokesperson, told ENI. "The problem is more to do with misinformation. Even church leaders are not aware of what transpired in exile. We have that information."

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia accounts for 650 000 of Namibia's 2 million people. It is located primarily in the north of the country, and was begun by Finnish missionaries in 1870.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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