Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

Current Situation in Angola, Eligibility of Angolan Asylum Seekers and Treatment of Returnees

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Publication Date 20 May 1998
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Current Situation in Angola, Eligibility of Angolan Asylum Seekers and Treatment of Returnees, 20 May 1998, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]


Africa's longest conflict

1.         Angola has been the setting for more than thirty-five years of a bloody war that has cost the lives of an estimated half a million people. Armed conflict started in 1960 as the liberation struggle against colonial rule from Portugal intensified. Shortly after independence was obtained in 1975, Angola became a Cold War battleground pitting the United States and the Soviet Union in a proxy war, which also so the involvement of Cuba, South Africa and Zaire.

2.         In 1974, a military coup in Lisbon ended a system that oversaw nearly five hundred years of colonial rule of Angola by Portugal, and three rival liberation movements turned on each other in order to be acknowledged as the legitimate national government. In fact, the Angolan political landscape consisted of three nationalist political parties corresponding to the three main ethno-linguistic groups:

(i)         The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), influenced by mixed-race Angolans and chiefly supported by the Kimbundu ethnic group from the centre-north and smaller ethnic groups from the east and south. Originally a collectivist party by ideology, the MPLA received support from the Soviet Union and Cuba. It became widely recognized abroad as the only Angolan movement with a nationalist purview, and was able to win recognition as the sole legitimate government of Angola after the initial coalition government it formed with FNLA and UNITA collapsed in 1996.

(ii)        The National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), under the leadership of westernized Angolans rooted essentially among the Bakongo ethnic group in the north-west provinces (Zaire and Uige). It received assistance from Zairean mercenaries and regular army units, as well as the United States.

(iii)       The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a pro-western party created by FNLA defectors, and mostly composed of Ovimbundu people from the central highlands. It found support from South Africa and the United States.

3.         Ideological conflict was not the only cause of the Angolan civil war. The substantial mineral wealth in oil and diamonds and the potential for agricultural development provided high stakes for both the internal and external actors.

4.         Finally, an important ethnic element had a hand in the conflict. In fact, FNLA and UNITA viewed the MPLA as "assimilados" and "mulattos", mixed-race urban elites who have assimilated the ways and culture of the Portuguese and exercise full control on the administration and the economy. On the other hand, FNLA and UNITA claimed to be more authentic African movements as they were each centered on specific local ethnic groups from the north and the central highlands, viewed by MPLA as peasants or the working class, and historically neglected and marginalized by the cosmopolitan coastal people.

The first elections

5.         After the end of the Cold War, improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and war fatigue facilitated the initiation of peace negotiations, which were linked to the independence of Namibia. In fact, for South Africa withdrawal of the substantial Cuban contingent supporting the MPLA government in Angola was ostensibly a pre-condition for the granting of independence to Namibia. Withdrawal of Cuban troops and Namibia's independence in 1990 paved the way for the Bicesse Peace Accords of May 1991, which formally brought to an end the Angolan civil war.

6.         The subsequent multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections, held under international monitoring in September 1992, confirmed the MPLA in power in Angola. However, the results of the elections modified the above-mentioned ethno-political configuration, with the UNITA victory not only in the central highlands but also in the north.

Resumption of the civil war

7.         The rejection by UNITA of the results of the elections led to the resumption of armed conflict throughout the country between this organization and the Government of Angola (GOA) in November 1992. The outbreak of this war started in Luanda in October, with mass killings of UNITA leaders and sympathizers and arms being distributed widely by both antagonists to civilians to defend themselves and attack supporters of the other group. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that the killings, atrocities, abuses and human rights violations were perpetrated against the civilian population and political opponents by each one of the parties in the territory under its control.

8.         These horrors reached their highest point in January 1993, with the mass killings of Angolans of Bakongo ethnic origin and those who were returnees from the former Zaire, termed "regressados" or "Zairenses", allegedly at the hands of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and civilians in Luanda. The control of 70 % of Angolan territory by UNITA, the victory of UNITA in the northern provinces (Uige and Zaire) during the 1992 elections and its capture of the oil city of Soyo in the northern province of Zaire, as well as the long-standing political and military support of the former Zairean government for UNITA, exacerbated the hatred and xenophobia against the Bakongo people. A Parliamentary Commission was appointed to investigate the circumstances of the killings and their perpetrators. The Commission concluded that the killings were perpetrated by uncontrolled civilians and not commissioned by the government.

The Lusaka Protocol

9.         A series of diplomatic initiatives undertaken by regional powers and subsequently by the international community led to two years of negotiations in Lusaka, Zambia, under the mediation of the United Nations, between the GOA and UNITA. Thus, an agreement known as the Lusaka Protocol was signed in November 1994, providing for the end of the war and all the aspects of national reconciliation and reconstruction which had not been dealt with in the Bicesse Accords. This document laid down the rights and obligations of the GOA and UNITA in relation to the peace process, as well as the various actions to be implemented in order to achieve national reconciliation and reconstruction. In this context, a Joint Commission consisting of both parties and the Troika States (United States, Russian Federation and Portugal), under the chairmanship of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG), was put in place to monitor the peace process and address possible disagreements that may arise in the implementation of the Protocol.

The Cabinda enclave

10.       Meanwhile, in the Cabinda enclave a separate military conflict had been raging between the FAA and local separatist movements for decades. This enclave, an oil producing province, generates 70 % of Angola's revenues. 10% of oil royalties is redistributed for the development of the province, and the rest goes to the central government. Since the 1960's, a number of separatist movements have been struggling for the autonomy or independence of Cabinda, believing that it could be a viable state thanks to oil revenues. They consist mainly of the Liberation Front of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC), which has subsequently split in three rival groups: FLEC, FLEC-FAC (Armed Forces of Cabinda) and FLEC RENOVADA. Another separatist movement, the Democratic Front of Cabinda (FDC), complements the Cabinda separatist landscape. All these organizations have armed factions, which carry out guerrilla activities against the government. Such activities were reportedly backed by the former Zairean and Congolese governments. Activities of Cabinda separatist movements on the ground are echoed by Cabinda lobbies at the international community level, with the aim of including this issue on the UN agenda.


Progress in implementation of the Lusaka Protocol

11.       Although the implementation of the Lusaka Protocol has been delayed as a result of deeply rooted mistrust between the GOA and UNITA, it appears that the peace process has reached an irreversible stage based on the significant achievements made at the humanitarian, military and political levels since April 1997. They may be summarized as follows:

Humanitarian level

-           Improved human rights awareness in the country and establishment of a Human Rights Division within the United Nations Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA), with the deployment of human rights observers in each Angolan province. To date, such observers are present in 13 out of the 18 provinces;

-           Liberation of war prisoners and repatriation of mercenaries;

-           Gradual return of free circulation of persons and goods in spite of constraints in the communication network, security problems and some legal restrictions;

-           Return of 60,000 internally displaced persons and 130,000 refugees to their areas of origin.

Political level

-           Taking up of seats in the National Parliament by 70 UNITA deputies;

-           Formation of a Government of National Unity and Reconciliation;

-           Appointment of UNITA officials to the posts of governors, vice-governors and ambassadors;

-           Promulgation of legislation granting special status to the President of UNITA, Dr. Jonas Savimbi, as leader of the largest opposition party;

-           Adoption of two amnesty laws in 1994 and 1996, which granted amnesty for all crimes against internal state security and all other related crimes committed by Angolan nationals within the framework of the Angolan military conflict. Such laws cover the period from 31st May 1991 to 9th May 1996, but crimes committed before that date are covered by the Amnesty Law enacted in connection with the Bicesse Accords;

-           Extension of State administration to 269 out of 335 areas previously under UNITA control, and bilateral negotiations for the extension of state administration in sensitive areas such as Bailundo and Andulo, where the UNITA leadership currently lives;

-           UNITA's declaration of full demobilization of its rebel army;

-           Formal legalization of UNITA as a political party on the part of the Angolan government;

-           Cessation of broadcasts by the UNITA shortwave radio station, Vorgan, which should be replaced by Radio Despertar;

-           Arrival in Luanda of the Vice-President of UNITA, General Antonio Dembo.

Military level

-           Constitution of a unified army with the incorporation of a total of 11, 125 UNITA soldiers, including 18 generals:

-           Demilitarization of UNITA;

-           Demobilization of a total of 43,011 troops, of which 42,651 were UNITA soldiers, and handing over of their weapons and ammunitions;

-           Initiation of demining operations in selected areas, representing fifty percent of Angolan territory but eighty percent of the population;

-           Commencement of disarmament of civilian population;

-           Reduction of Dr. Savimbi's security detachment from 400 to 150 guards, and integration of the existing 400 body guards of the UNITA leader in the Angolan National Police.

Constraints on completion of the peace process

12.       One of the main provisions of the Lusaka Protocol is the withdrawal by UNITA from areas under its control to allow for the re-establishment of state administration. This ongoing exercise has been delayed due to the strategic and economic importance of certain areas (presence of diamond mines, military and logistic bases). It will hopefully be completed in the course of 1998. However, living conditions in the areas returned to state administration are very difficult and precarious. Infrastructure destroyed by the civil war has, for the most part, not been renovated. The GOA sends personnel to these locations (civil servants and law enforcement authorities) when they revert to its control, but usually does not support their smooth management. In particular, irregular and low salaries, lack of discipline, low morale, lack of material support and abuse of power have caused elements of the Angolan National Police (ANP) to harass and victimize the local population, including returnees. In addition, several of the localities where state administration has been extended are still not stable. As a result of threats of attacks made by UNITA militants, local government authorities had to flee some areas. At the same time, some UNITA representatives had to abandon their locations owing to harassment and threats from elements of the ANP.

13.       Notwithstanding progress in the implementation of the Lusaka Protocol, a number of unfulfilled commitments on the part of UNITA led to the adoption by the UN Security Council in October 1997 of Resolution 1127, imposing sanctions against this organization. Thus, UN member states were requested to close UNITA representations abroad, to deny entry visas to its senior officials and to prohibit the flight of aircraft to and from UNITA areas. Another setback for the peace process came at the end of February 1998, when the UNITA leader reiterated that he was unwilling to move to Luanda, citing fears of a possible assassination. Although most of the outstanding tasks were completed in March 1998, the UNITA leader failed to establish himself in Luanda. The UNITA Vice-President, who arrived in Luanda at the end of March, repeatedly stated in a press conference that Dr. Savimbi would come to Luanda only when the peace process is consolidated and the disarmament of the civilian population has been completed.

14.       However, the process of disarmament of the civilian population is very slow, due to the reluctance of many individuals to give up weapons which they feel they may have to use to defend themselves in case of resumption of hostilities, particularly in urban areas. There is an obvious linkage here between completion of the peace process and significant progress in the disarmament of the civilian population. Another complication related to this is that decisions on whether or not to hold a second round of presidential elections, which did not take place in 1992 because war broke out, and on the date for the next parliamentary election, are yet to be taken. It is a fact that many civilians do not feel secure until the strength of the peace process has been tested by the conduct of peaceful parliamentary and presidential elections.

15.       Despite the formal conclusion of the demobilization process of UNITA, allegations persist on the existence of a large number of unregistered and undemobilized soldiers. Although they are now liable to be treated as armed bandits, their potential for renewed military activities cannot be underestimated. Nevertheless, it appears unlikely that UNITA will go back to war, even if some localized conflict cannot be excluded. In fact, the loss of external allies and support bases (after the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, also Zambia and Ivory Coast have withdrawn support), the official demilitarization of the movement and demobilization of its army, the return of most areas under UNITA control to state administration (including diamond mining areas which generated much of the revenue in the past), as well as the increasing divide between the moderate members based in Luanda with well-paid government jobs and the hard liners who remain in Andulo and Bailundo, make it all but impossible for UNITA to wage another war with any chance of success.

Status of voluntary repatriation

16.       Despite the continuing uncertainties surrounding the peace process, infrastructural rehabilitation and reintegration programmes are being implemented by UN agencies and NGOs in the country, and at the same time a policy of promotion of return of IDPs and refugees to their areas of origin by the Angolan government is under way. Since 1995, UNHCR with its implementing partners have concentrated their activities in major areas of return (Zaire, Uige, Moxico and Lunda Sul), by establishing field offices, rehabilitating basic infrastructure (roads, health posts, schools, boreholes), building reception/transit centers where returnees are registered and provided with assistance before being transported to their final destinations. The assistance package includes food ration for a maximum of one year (depending on the timing of return with the agricultural cycle), household items, blankets, buckets, seeds and agricultural tools. From 1995 to 1997, these pull factors have encouraged the spontaneous repatriation of 130,000 Angolan refugees from the DRC and Zambia. In December 1997 a group of 129 refugees repatriated from Namibia in a movement organized by the Angolan government.

17.       Despite the impressive number of spontaneous returnees from the DRC and Zambia, there is a perception among the most politically aware refugees, particularly in Namibia and South Africa, that care should be taken not to repeat the same mistake of 1991/92, when 120.000 refugees returned to Angola before the elections to be displaced again shortly thereafter by the resumption of the civil war. It is likely that this segment of the Angolan refugee population will only decide to return if the UNITA leader establishes himself in Luanda, thereby completing the transformation of this organization in a political party.

Living conditions in Luanda

18.       The city of Luanda, which was planned for half a million residents, hosts nowadays a cosmopolitan population of approximately 4 million, out of the estimated 12 million Angolan population. It is therefore overcrowded with appalling living conditions, the features of which are summarized below:

-           galloping inflation amounting to more than 1000% in 1996;

-           shortage or irregular water and energy supplies, and poor sanitation conditions;

-           high unemployment rate;

-           ethnic groups concentrated in certain quarters such as Palanca for Bakongo, returnees and population of the South, Prenda for nationals of Cape-Verde, Bairro Operario for Colored Angolans, and so on. At present, these groups live together in the national capital without any problem;

-           import of the main goods for the black market and absence of distribution network;

-           high demand and very low supply capacity resulting in expensive prices and regular shortages;

-           banditry acts and assaults by unidentified armed elements targeting particularly foreigners, UN and diplomatic assets;

19.       Luanda is also known as a city where very few persons own and enjoy the wealth of Angola. The disparity between upper and lower classes, the rich and poor continues to grow. A significant segment of the population lives below the poverty line.


Human rights violations

20.       The human rights situation in Angola has improved since the signing of the Lusaka Protocol but is still a matter of concern. The very low salaries of civil servants and irregular payments have caused low morale, indiscipline and rampant corruption in the national and local administration, at a time when state administration is being gradually extended to areas formerly under UNITA control. Among the entities worst affected by this phenomenon are the Angolan National Police and Commando Units, whose uncontrolled elements reportedly abuse and harass the civilian population. In rural areas, this is done through the establishment of illegal check-points which limit freedom of movement. Reported incidents include killing, looting, theft, rape, arbitrary arrest and detention, assault, beating and torture. Although the main motive in such incidents seems to be extortion of money and goods from private citizens, in certain instances arbitrary arrest and detention were carried out against persons suspected of being UNITA members or supporters. In addition, insecurity caused by wandering bands of demobilized soldiers and bandits attacking government posts and vehicles and abducting personnel, remain a source of concern. Areas particularly affected by these human rights violations are in Uige Province (Negage municipality), Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces, Moxico (Luau municipality), Huambo, Benguela and Kwanza Sul Provinces.

21.       The above-mentioned situation is compounded by the absence of a functioning judicial system in most of the provinces. However, the government has made a commitment that any policeman who would be found guilty of unruly behaviour would be punished accordingly. In addition, the MONUA civilian police observers monitor the neutrality of the ANP and security arrangements for UNITA leaders, especially in areas where state administration has recently been extended. They also investigate allegations of human rights violations by the ANP and undertake numerous visits to prisons and detention centres.

Land mines

22.       Another serious cause of insecurity is the extensive presence of anti-personnel mines throughout the country, including in and around urban areas (up to twenty million according to certain sources). Demining operations are very slow and costly, and it may take up to twenty years to rid Angola of most of these weapons. It should also be noted that re-mining is reported to take place in militarily sensitive areas both under UNITA and government control.

Freedom of movement

23.       In areas under government control there reportedly is freedom of movement and settlement, albeit hampered by illegal checkpoints which may be established by unruly elements of the ANP. However, MONUA civilian police observers are also responsible for verification of the free circulation of people and goods, and conduct frequent patrols for this purpose. The only limitation to free movement is that individuals must carry an identification document with them, in the absence of which they may be detained for identification purposes. In areas under UNITA control (mainly Andulo, Bailundo and Jamba) the civilian population reportedly cannot move freely, and those who try to leave such areas without permission may incur severe consequences. There are unconfirmed reports that family members of persons who managed to escape from UNITA areas have been killed in reprisal. However, travel permits may be issued to persons known by UNITA, who may be authorized to go to government controlled areas for specific purposes (e.g. family visits, medical treatment).

Human rights monitoring

24.       The issue of human rights was acknowledged by all parties concerned as the keystone in the national reconciliation process. In order to strengthen respect for human rights and monitor their observance, initiatives have been taken by human rights organizations and the United Nations. In accordance with the relevant Security Council recommendation, a Human Rights Division was established with EU funding in MONUA, to monitor and promote respect for human rights throughout the country through the deployment of human rights observers. The Division also receives complaints from private individuals or groups who claim to be victims of human rights violations. It undertakes investigations, the findings and recommendations of which are presented to the Joint Commission. However, follow-up on reports of human rights violations by the Joint Commission is a very lengthy process, which seldom results in effective remedial action, Furthermore, difficult or non-existent communication and transport facilities in these areas may inhibit any investigation or intervention. However, it should be noted that close cooperation between human rights observers and local authorities in several provinces has led to corrective measures being taken to limit human rights abuses, such as the release of some UNITA sympathizers who had been arbitrarily detained in Bie and Cuando Cubango provinces.

Judicial system in Angola

25.       The Angolan judicial system is at the image of many other institutions in the country, i.e. imperfectly operational in Luanda and inexistant or inefficient out of Luanda. The judicial system in Angola is far from independent from the executive and legislative power. In addition, low salaries and low morale expose it to corruption. Furthermore, it experiences structural problems affecting its ability to function properly: unavailability of courts of law throughout the country; lack of adequate and properly trained/skilled staff, lack of justice auxiliaries; obsolescence of penitentiary administration; conflicts of competence on the exercise of public prosecution between the Ministry of Interior (Police) and the Ministry of Justice, inadequate domestic legislation. These discrepancies and gaps do not encourage Angolan citizens to go to court and are not conducive to protection of human rights by the judicial system as provided for in the Constitution.

26.       The inefficiency of the judicial system and penitentiary administration prompted the GOA to create a National Commission on Penal Reform with the support of UNDP, with a view to promoting structural reforms aimed at strengthening and safeguarding the rule of law. In addition, a Constitutional Commission whose terms of reference have recently been approved by the National Assembly was established by the GOA to review the Constitution in order to lay the foundations of a modern constitutional democracy based on the rule of law in Angola. However, it will take some time before these bodies produce their recommendations and the latter are translated into positive legislation, which could make a difference on the ground.

Public awareness

27.       Despite the above-mentioned shortcomings, a culture of peace and respect for human rights is progressively being developed among the citizenry through sensitization campaigns carried out by MONUA in the various provinces. In particular, a monthly information bulleting on human rights, aimed at helping citizens to understand their rights and obligations, is widely distributed among the population. In addition, ANP personnel is being trained by the MONUA civilian police observers in internationally accepted human rights and criminal justice standards, as well as police procedures. To promote these efforts further, a Department of Human Rights was created within the Ministry of Justice in June 1997. Finally, it should be mentioned that in November 1998 Angola will host a ministerial meeting of the OAU Commission on Human and People's Rights to assess the human rights situation in Africa.


Criteria for granting of refugee status to Angolan asylum seekers in Africa

28.       Hitherto, Angolan asylum seekers in African countries have been granted refugee status on the basis of the broader refugee definition contained in the 1969 OAU Convention art. 1 (2) (persons who flee as a result of events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of their country of origin or nationality). However, in February 1998 the Namibian government announced that Angolan asylum seekers in that country will henceforth have their claims adjudicated on the basis of the refugee definition contained in art. 1 A (2) of the 1951 Convention. Considering the overall situation in Angola and the fact that UNHCR is currently promoting voluntary repatriation, field offices in other African countries hosting Angolan asylum seekers should initiate discussions with their respective government counterparts with a view to introducing the 1951 Convention refugee definition as the criterion for granting refugee status to this caseload in the future. The timing of this shift should be agreed upon taking into account the prevailing conditions in the country concerned.

29.       On the other hand, considering the separate nature of the ongoing conflict in Cabinda, we are of the opinion that Angolan asylum seekers originating from the enclave, who fled as a result of this conflict, should continue to be granted refugee status on a prima facie basis under the 1969 OAU Convention broader refugee definition.

Members of separatist movements

30.       Considered as a minority group (14 % of the population), Angolans of Bakongo ethnic origin are located in the northern provinces, which were part of the ancient Kingdom of Congo up to the 19th century. This kingdom was delineated by the Zaire river in the north and Luanda in the south, and included some of the populations of the present day Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Republic of Congo (RC). Bakongo people are known to be shrewd and energetic, whether as organizers of businesses, syncretic churches or political movements. In multi-ethnic Luanda, they have been successful in trade and other Angolans have resented this. During the early 1990's, some Bakongo-based clandestine movements such as MACO (Movimento para a autodeterminacao do Congo), MELACO (Movimento para a autodeterminacao do Congo Portugues) and PARECO (Partido Africano para a restauracao do Reino do Congo) emerged, with the objective of constituting an independent Bakongo federation. Membership of such movements may expose to acts of a persecutory nature such as arbitrary arrest and detention by the Angolan security forces.

3 1.      As a result of guerrilla activities undertaken by separatist movements in Cabinda, FAA reprisals are carried out against the general population, irrespective of their status. This population has sought refuge both in the DRC and the RC. The GOA is unwavering in its conviction that Cabinda must remain an integral part of the Angolan nation, and therefore any reference to its independence is taboo. Members of all Cabinda separatist movements are therefore at a very high risk of persecution on grounds of political opinion regardless of their level of activism, and may be subject to arbitrary arrest and even extra-judicial execution.

Minority ethnic groups

32.       According to the minority ethnic groups definition minority group is a self-identified community that is marginalized, without power, unable to take decisions over its destiny and experiencing high levels of illiteracy, under education and overt or covert discrimination. Pursuant to this definition, four main ethnic groups are considered as minority groups in Angola: Ovimbundu, based in the central highlands and south, Bakongo in the north, and Sau and Kwisi in the south-west. Although Bakongo people were the chief victims of the January 1993 massive killings in Luanda, there is neither evidence nor indication to suggest that these minority group at present suffers from discrimination or harassment by agents of the GOA, even if such acts may occasionally occur at the hands of the local population. All minority ethnic groups, including the Bakongo, are now living peacefully together in Luanda and in Angola generally. In light of the above, it may be concluded that persecution on ethnic grounds no longer appears to be relevant in the Angolan situation, even if isolated incidents cannot be excluded.

Opposition parties

33.       Members of opposition parties now live safely in Luanda. Recognized political parties, whether represented in Parliament or not, carry out their activities normally and there is no impediment to political activities by the Government. In 1997, the leader of the PDP-ANA (Democratic Party for Progress-Angola National Alliance), a member of Parliament whose immunity was removed, was charged with forgery of documentation in his party's legalization process. However, he was found not guilty by a court of law, and has retrieved his seat in Parliament and resumed his political activities normally.

UNITA members and sympathizers

34.       Although the UNITA leader has so far declined to move to Luanda citing security reasons, prominent UNITA members, ministers, deputies and even defectors from this organization are now living safely in the capital city. Since 1996, it has not come to public knowledge that any UNITA member has been subjected to harassment either by the Government or by the civilian population in Luanda. Elsewhere in Angola and namely in Malange, 10 out of 23 UNITA sympathizers arrested in November 1997 for the murder of a police officer in Cangandala municipality and detained in the judiciary police cell, were found dead, apparently due to suffocation. On account of this incident, it emerged that a cell that could only accommodate 20 persons was hosting approximately 50 individuals. The findings of the investigation commission established by the Minister of Home Affairs at the request of MONUA, according to which a fight between UNITA detainees was the cause of the deaths, were widely questioned. As a result of dissatisfaction with the approach and findings of this commission, MONUA recommended the establishment of a joint commission UNITA/GOA/MONUA, and the families of the deceased requested it to review the case. On the other hand, similar incidents have occurred to MPLA supporters in areas formerly under UNITA control.

35.       It should also be noted that, in the course of extension of state administration to areas held by UNITA, it has been observed that the ANP sometimes would harass or arbitrarily arrest and detain UNITA sympathisers. However, the government has announced that disciplinary action will be taken against any unruly element of the ANP, whose impartiality is also closely monitored by MONUA civilian police observers. Overall, despite occasional incidents, at present UNITA members and sympathisers do not generally appear to be specifically targeted for acts of a persecutory nature in Angola.

Former students

36.       Former students abroad and particularly in Cuba and Eastern European countries are warmly welcomed by the government, and accommodated in Luanda prior to joining their families at final destinations. However, it should be mentioned that military service is obligatory under art. 152 of the Angolan Constitution. It is governed by the law reference 1/93 of 26 March 1993, whereby all male citizens between the age of 20 and 30 years are required to undertake active military service for a period of two years. According to this law, completion of military service is a prerequisite for any employment with the government and in the formal sector of the economy, and young citizens studying abroad are required to undertake military service as soon as they complete their course. It should be noted that no provision is made in this law for exempting from military service conscience or religious objectors, nor is any alternative form of civil service made available to these persons. Although this law is still in force, it should also be noted that it has been applied less rigorously since the end of the armed conflict.

Military deserters and evaders

37.       Under the law reference 4/94 of 28 January 1994, desertion from or evasion of military service are considered military crimes punishable with two to three years of imprisonment, whereas fleeing military incorporation is punished with three months to two years imprisonment. However, these crimes would fall under the scope of the two amnesty laws enacted by the Angolan Parliament in 1994 and 1996, provided that they were committed during the period covered by the above laws. In accordance with these laws, all crimes against internal state security and military crimes committed within the framework of the Angolan armed conflict from 31st May 1991 to 9 May 1996 shall be amnestied, including military desertion and evasion.


38.       The Angolan Constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the media. It further provides that the media cannot be subject to political or ideological censorship. The Angolan media landscape is characterized by a daily newspaper, a television, and a national radio network, all controlled by the GOA, as well as private newspapers and commercial radios. An editorial policy elaborated by the Minister of Social Communication is applied by journalists of official media, while journalists of private media resort to self-censorship. Thus there is no real pluralism of opinion in information and within the media, and attempts to criticize the government by journalists can either result in dismissal or threats and killings. For instance, Mr. Ricardo Melo chief editor of the private newspaper "Impartial Fax" was assassinated in January 1995 for his outspoken editorials against corruption in government. Another journalist, Mr. Jose Antonio Casimiro, working with Angolan Television in Cabinda, received death threats before being murdered. His repeated and open criticism against government was most likely the cause of his killing. Although the GOA promised to investigate these cases, no official findings have been made available to date.


Safety of returnees

39.       The Memorandum of Understanding between the GOA and UNHCR, signed in June 1995, and Tripartite Agreements between the GOA, UNHCR and three neighbouring countries (DRC, Zambia and Namibia) are the legal instruments governing the voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees. These instruments contain all the standard protection clauses applicable to refugees and returnees in voluntary repatriation operations carried out under the auspices of UNHCR. The two amnesty laws promulgated in 1994 and 1996 complement the legal framework. Through its field presence in major areas of return in the north and the east of the country, the Office monitors the safe return and reintegration of Angolan refugees. No incidents are reported to have affected returnees so far. In Luanda, since 1995 a number of Angolan refugees and rejected asylum seekers have been repatriated from European countries without any harassment upon arrival. It should be emphasized that no legislation exists in Angola prohibiting the long and unauthorized stay of Angolan citizens' abroad. All Angolans are therefore welcome to return to their motherland regardless of the time spent abroad.

Prospects for organized repatriation in 1998

40.       The uncertainty of the peace process, the GOA's position on non-initiation of organized repatriation until after completion of the extension of state administration throughout the country, and shortage of funds for programme delivery were the major impediments to the promotion of organized voluntary repatriation during 1997. With the clearance given by the GOA for repatriation to government-controlled areas in October 1997 and the near-completion of the peace process, UNHCR plans to actively promote spontaneous repatriation of Angolan refugees through a series of measures to strengthen public information campaigns and facilitate pre-departure registration and return movements. It is envisaged that promotion of voluntary repatriation will take place in phases in the course of 1998, starting with the northern provinces where the situation seems to be more conducive, and afterwards addressing the central-eastern provinces, where there is a need for consolidation of the peace process on the ground. Return of the refugee caseload from Namibia to the southern provinces will take place at a later stage. Alongside assisted spontaneous repatriation, UNHCR will engage in limited organized movements targeting specific vulnerable groups.

Conditions and modalities for the return of rejected asylum seekers.

41.       UNHCR closely monitors the repatriation of Angolan refugees with its government counterpart, the Ministry of Social Assistance and Reinsertion, within which a special National Unit to Support Repatriation (UNAR) was set-up in 1996. UNAR operates a reception centre in Viana on the outskirts of Luanda, where returnees in transit through Luanda are accommodated for short periods and assisted with documentation and tracing of their families. Apart from this centre, there are no facilities in Luanda to accommodate and assist returnees upon arrival. As a result, ICs whose final destinations are out of the national capital are expected to spend very limited time in Luanda. For those returning to Luanda, the complete relatives' address (i.e. telephone contacts, street name and civic number, neighbourhood name) should be exchanged with BO Luanda in order to trace relatives and facilitate reception and hand-over upon arrival. Angolan returnees, including rejected asylum seekers, are received at the airport by representatives of UNHCR and UNAR, and no incident involving returnees has been reported so far to BO Luanda.

42.       In view of the foregoing, we believe that rejected asylum seekers may now be returned to Angola in a safe and humane manner. However, it should be remembered that UNHCR does not object to the return of rejected asylum seekers provided that their cases have been considered in fair procedures where the relevant criteria have been properly applied. Should field offices be approached by governments seeking the Office's involvement in the return of rejected Angolan asylum seekers, general guidance should be drawn from the guidelines on UNHCR's role in the return of rejected cases.

BO Luanda/ SAO Pretoria
20th May 1998

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