The recent assaults of civilians at the hands of members of the Namibia Defence Force has given rise to a national conversation on whether the military has any business taking part in law enforcement operations such as Operation Hornkranz.
Luise Mwanyengapo, is one of the civilians whose attack shed a spotlight on what – according to many – is the growing concern of physical assault at the hands of the country’s uniformed officers.
Mwanyengapo, who sustained serious injuries including a fractured skull, was assaulted in Freedomland last weekend.
Social Media was filled with photographs of Mwanyengapo’s severed forehead, others’ bruises from beating, bulletholes in vehicles as well as bullets that entered homes during the operation last weekend.
President Hage Geingob, the Commander-In-Chief of the Namibian Defence Force officially launched Operation Hornkranz late last year with the purpose of fighting crime.
The NDF last year announced that they joined the Namibian police in all 14 Regions to conduct joint crime preventive operations from 21 December 2018.
While Inspector-General of the Namibian Police, Sebastian Ndeitunga on several occasions boasted about the success of the operation including hundreds arrested for crimes such as attempted murder and the confiscation of drugs with the street value of more-than N$5,6 million, the operation has also raised several concerns over the presence of the military in law enforcement operations as well as the abuse of the minimum force use by the officers.
Military enforcing law
Political analyst Henning Melber said that the deployment of soldiers for Operation Hornkranz and others is a completely unwanted intervention and an abuse of the state’s monopoly of power.
He explained that fighting domestic crime is a sole professional privilege of civilian police forces and the military is there to defend national security at the borders and may even be deployed in exceptional circumstances like acts of terrorism and a state of emergency.
Because Operation Hornkranz in its core is an effort to reduce local crime through law enforcement and Melber said, the requirement for military deployment is not met in Operation Hornkranz as ordinary crime prevention is a purely civilian matter.
“Hence interventions like this lower the bar and threshold and pave the way towards unwanted (and unconstitutional) operations by security forces, who do not have the mandate, he said.
He added that “Namibia is a democratic state where observing the rule of law rests with the police and the judiciary.
It has a civilian, elected government and is not a military regime. Soldiers should stay in the barracks and leave the citizens in peace.”
“If need is, they should protect them at the borders, and maybe under exceptional circumstances be delayed for humanitarian purposes after natural disasters,” Melber concluded.
Former military commander Lieutenant General Martin Shalli said while the military is tasked with protecting the territorial integrity of the country, there is nothing illegal in the military being deployed in assistance to civil power which includes the police, to maintain law and order.
He said that from the reports he has heard and read, he does not condone any disorderly behaviour of those who made themselves guilty of the allegations.
He added that the operation should not be dismissed as a whole, but that people must look at the behaviour of the individual and the type of operation.
Ombudsman John Walters told The Patriot that if there is truth to the reports and allegations, then he will have to ask the President to put an end to the operation.
He shared Melber’s sentiments on the separation of duties between the police and the military saying the police force has the duty to protect the citizens and to enforce the law while the military has the duty to protect the country from outside threats.
He also agreed with Shalli in that the military may be requested by the President as the Commander-In-Chief of the military, to assist the police, but only where necessary.
He said that the assistance becomes a problem when it infringes the human rights such as a right to movement, dignity, association and freedom of speech.
“Uniformed officers’ first duty is to protect, if they are becoming violators who will enforce?”
He said that the citizens’ duty to also enjoy their rights responsibly, should not be ignored.
A member of the police force who did not want to be named told The Patriot on Monday that one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed – not only for the military, but also in the police force – is the use and definition of minimum force.
He said that many of the uniformed officers hide behind the minimum force provision act and as a result get away with assault on many occasions. “Every uniformed officer knows what minimum force is, but there are those who physically assault civilians and claim it was necessary minimum force use,” the officer said.
Melber said that the Police have to exercise complete restraint when it comes to the use of force.
He acknowledged that there might be occasional situations where acting in self-defence could be justified, but the excess of police brutality currently happening at times is violating the code of conduct.
“Police needs to be trained to not abuse the power it has and there should indeed be a strict handbook applied, which limits the use of force to an absolute minimum.
Those in violation of such rules would then have to be prosecuted and punished.
Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten what abuse of power during Apartheid settler minority rule did to the people,” the activist said.
Geingob on Monday met with top leadership in the Ministry of Safety and Security, Ministry of Defence, Namibian Defence Force and Namibian Police to discuss the assault and brutality allegations against uniformed officers during Operation Hornkranz last weekend.
The Namibian presidency in a statement issued on Monday said that the President’s office, the relevant ministries, Namibian Police and NDF will conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations “and where it is found that soldiers reacted outside of the rules, such perpetrators will face the appropriate disciplinary procedures.”
They urged concerned citizens to press charges should they face violence at the hands of the army or police, saying the aim of the operation, which the presidency said was legally constituted and well-intended, was not for the actions that transpired the past weekend.
“The purpose of these joint operations is to tackle crime and not to turn Namibia into a police state. The presidency therefore urges that all stakeholders adhere to strict codes in carrying out operations against crime around the country,” the presidency said in the statement.
Presidency also defended the involvement of the military during law enforcement operations saying that “under the Constitution, joint crime frightening operations between the Namibian Police and the Namibian Defence Forces have been a regular occurrence and did not begin when the President launched the anti-crime operation last year.”
Ministry of Defence spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Petrus Shilumbu, in a media statement issued by the ministry this week, said that they were shocked by the alleged actions of the soldiers.
He added that the ministry did not order soldiers to assault members of the public and that they will not tolerate the behaviour of the officers.
He added that the ministry will investigate the case and those found guilty will be dealt with according to the Military Discipline Code.
The Legal Assistance Centre also joined the ministry in condemning the soldiers’ actions labelling the assaults as unlawful.
The LAC in a statement issued earlier this week said that while the NDF can be utilised in the preservation of life, health or property or in such other service as may be determined by the President, the emphasis should remain the preservation and not violation of rights.
They added that the services must be provided in terms of the Police Act.
Section 14(10) of the Police Act states that “the force may only be used as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of an offender or suspected offender or persons unlawfully at large”.
“These are the only instances when force can be utilized, and then only as is reasonably necessary,” the statement by LAC read.
Being aware of increasing reports of assaults by the Namibian Police and NDF, the LAC said that the matter deserves the immediate and urgent attention from the Inspector-General and chief of the Defence Force.
“We ask that the Government seriously address these issues lest we return to that sordid part of our history where institutionalised violence was the order of the day.
There is no place for this lawless behaviour in an independent Namibia,” the LAC statement read, in addition calling for public feedback on the disciplinary action taken against the officers.