The Namibian Sun reports that a gay Ugandan man who's been in jail for a year wants to seek asylum in Namibia because of Uganda's draconian anti-gay laws. He fears for his safety should he be deported. But Nkrumah Mushelenga, Namibia's refugee commissioner, is unmoved:
Asked whether Ugandan gays can apply for refugee status in Namibia, Mushelenga replied: "Not at all. Our domestic refugee law does not have a provision granting refugee status for being gay. And we will never do that."
He said Ugandan gays should not waste their time coming here, as they will not qualify to become refugees on the basis of their sexuality. "We will not accept them. They are not part of the criteria we use."
Mushelenga pointed out that the Namibian Constitution empowers the state to grant asylum to people fearing persecution on the grounds of race, religion, political beliefs, or "membership of a particular social group." Since sexual orientation isn't covered in either the constitution or the country's refugee law, the implication is that the Namibian government is under no obligation to grant asylum on that basis.
The refugee commissioner's comments have drawn a sharp rebuke from human rights groups in the country, Gay Star News reports:
NamRights and Namibia's gay community, represented by former Mr. Gay Namibia winner Wendelinus Hamutenya, held a press conference yesterday in which they decried his statements. "Mushelenga exhibits gross ignorance of the Namibian Constitution and this country's jurisprudence," Hamutenya said in a statement forwarded to GSN.
"Article 97, read together with Article 10, of the Namibian Constitution, which Mushelenga seeks to misinterpret, strictly prohibits denial of asylum in Namibia on account of 'membership of a particular social group.' Little does Mushelenga seems to know that 'a social group' includes a gay group."
NamRights spokesperson Phil ya Nangoloh noted several court rulings that had found that gay refugees could seek asylum in Namibia and warned that Namibia would be failing its international human rights obligations by failing to allow them to.
Whether or not Namibia has the legal authority to send Ugandan refugees away, this gesture is both immoral and inhumane. Shame.