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Was the ombudsman’s meeting a farce?

In September 2011, we attended an international stakeholders meeting in Windhoek which was convened by the country’s ombudsman, Adv John Walters, to discuss the legalities and the methods of the slaughter of Cape Fur seals. The ombudsman would then release a report to determine the future of the seal hunt in Namibia.
At the time, we suspected the meeting was a delay tactic employed by the Namibian government to ease the pressure from ourselves and especially our calls for an international boycott of the country based on the cruelty aspects involved. This delay would then allow the government to proceed with another year of [culling].
Lack of transparency is nothing new, so with our suspicions raised, we delivered a petition with 22 000 signatures calling on Adv Walters to institute a moratorium on all seal culling until he could make an informed decision. This moratorium would be based on the uncertainty principle and would prevent the government from further potentially violating any laws should it be found that the massacre is indeed illegal. (Which we firmly believe it to be.) To date no such moratorium has been imposed.
We decided to give the ombudsman the benefit of the doubt. We had hoped that the Namibian government would honour their responsibilities and would work with Adv Walters in assisting him to complete his report timeously. In email correspondence sent from his office it was promised that his report would then be released in March.
We were then informed that the ombudsman was unable to proceed with this report as he was awaiting the results of an aerial survey which was undertaken in December of 2011. Once again, a postponement was set for the end of May. Again, we raised our concerns not only via our website but also in direct correspondence with both the Office of the Namibian Ombudsman as well as the media. Adv Walters replied to our concerns via a statement in the press where he assured us that no stall tactics were being employed.
Subsequent to this, Bernard Esau, the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources [increased] the number of rights holders from three to six. In doing so, not only has Minister Esau enraged the current rights holders who adamantly maintain that there are not enough seals but he has shown contempt for any possible findings of the ombudsman, regardless of what the outcome of those findings may be. Furthermore, we question how the Minister can claim to be “harvesting” seals in a responsible and sustainable manner when no complete population data exists on the species since 2007.
We are now well into June. The illegal and unscientific massacre of the country’s national asset is around the corner. Still, we have no word or response from Adv Walters. If anything, we have a bunch of misinformed individuals, masquerading as conservationists, trying desperately to discredit reputable organisations with some twisted smear campaign and lobbying the government to declare us as terrorists when all we are interested in is the welfare of a species that has suffered a 98% loss of habitat and has barely survived seven major mass die-offs in 16 years.
We also fail to see the need for Adv Walters to even consider a population survey when the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the legalities and the method of harvest. Surely, if it was shown that in no uncertain terms there are gross violations of the law occurring, then any population data should be insignificant. If the purpose of the meeting was to ascertain the size of the seal population, the legalities and the methods, then by all means, await this survey. But to continue dilly dallying while the country suffers from increased calls for an economic boycott can be likened to the situation where Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Pat Dickens
Campaign Manager
The Seals of Nam
(Letter edited – Ed.)

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