The Namibian Society for Human Rights (NSHR) on Thursday condemned the 'secret' deportation of 74 political prisoners to Angola, saying it deprived the detainees of their right to be reunited with their families in Namibia.
The Dordabis 74 were arrested in June and July 2000 following allegations that they were members of Angola's former rebel group UNITA. The government accused the group of involvement in a spate of attacks on civilians in northeastern Namibia.
Since then, human rights activists in Namibia have called for their unconditional release, arguing that the constitution provided that persons arrested and detained should be brought before a court of law within 48 hours of their arrest.
In a surprise move the government handed over 74 detainees held at Dordabis to the Angolan authorities on 21 December after the Namibian and Angolan authorities reached an agreement on their fate.
"The superindent of Kalai on the Angolan side of the border received his fellow Angolans and assured us they would be taken to their various areas of origin inside Angola," Commissioner for Refugees Elizabeth Negumbo told IRIN.
But the NSHR said although most of the detainees were Angolan by birth, many had taken up residence in Namibia for many years and therefore had a right to remain in the country.
"The government has yet again violated the rights of the detainees. Many of them have not been in Angola for years and now are expected to return. To what exactly? They are Namibians and should have the right to choose where they want to reside," the executive director of the NSHR, Phil ya Nangoloh, told IRIN.
Of the 82 originally arrested, two were released soon after detention as they had possessed valid national documents of Angola. Of the remaining 80, two died in custody and a further two were found to be Namibian nationals.
The NSHR alleged that two men continued to be detained at Dordabis.
Negumbo said the men were being held in custody "until the their exact nationalities are determined in consultation with the Angolan government".
The government has dismissed allegations that the deportation was done 'secretly', saying that the operation was transparent as it was witnessed by officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Angolan and Namibian governments.
In November 2002 a tripartite agreement between the government's of Angola and Namibia and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) paved the way for the return of some 20,000 Angolan refugees living in Namibia.
But the agreement made no provision for the release and repatriation of the group held in Dordabis.
Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman Mika Asino said the decision to send the detainees back home was in light of the reconciliation process underway in Angola between the government and UNITA.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions