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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Angola

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Angola, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 30 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Throughout 1993 the Government of the Republic of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) remained embroiled in a brutal civil war. A partial cease-fire took hold during October, permitting the delivery of food and medical supplies to some interior towns. Twice during the year the Government and UNITA initiated negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations (U.N.); at year's end these negotiations were continuing. UNITA, led by Jonas Savimbi, claimed that the governing party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, engaged in massive fraud during the multiparty presidential elections in September 1992, with the result that the UNITA candidate, Savimbi, was deprived of victory. The United Nations did not accept the UNITA allegation and declared the elections generally free and fair.

Setting the stage for the renewed fighting in 1993 was the failure to complete, prior to the September 1992 elections, the demobilization process and the formation of the new national army called for in the 1991 Bicesse Peace Accords. While government military forces demobilized quickly in the expectation of a lasting peace, UNITA elements remained prepared for rapid mobilization and had access to arms never surrendered during the demobilization process. As a result, UNITA forces were able to occupy large parts of the country with little effective opposition by the Government. Attempts to counter UNITA advances required the Government virtually to recreate and rearm its military organization. In the interim the Government relied heavily on its antiriot police and arming the urban populace for combat roles. The result has been a bloody and inconclusive war. Through most of 1993, UNITA controlled most of the national territory, including the diamond mines of Lunda Norte province, which it used to finance its operations.

The majority of the population lived in or migrated to the parts of the country that remained in government hands.

Angola has great economic potential with extensive petroleum and diamond reserves, rich agricultural land, and hydroelectric potential, but faces severe macroeconomic distortions resulting from the war and misguided economic policy. Territory under government control suffered from hyperinflation, scarcity of consumer goods, massive unemployment and underemployment, and continuing pervasive corruption in 1993. Subsistence agriculture, traditionally the main source of income for the majority of Angola's approximately 10 million citizens, was severely affected by war-related damage, including heavy use of land mines by both the Government and UNITA.

Human rights in Angola deteriorated in 1993 in the face of heightened civil war brutalities and the absence of government and UNITA actions to curb egregious violations of humanitarian law. Media, eyewitness, and international community reports indicated that UNITA forces, government military, and internal security forces flagrantly disregarded fundamental humanitarian values in their treatment of prisoners of war, their extrajudicial killings of unarmed civilians, including women, children and the elderly, and their impediments to delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in dire need.

The Government detained prisoners accused of political and other crimes for indeterminate periods of time under inhumane conditions and without due process of law, according to a persuasive report published by the Human Rights Subcommittee of the National Assembly. UNITA held foreign hostages in Jamba, Huambo, and other areas under its control. The media published credible allegations of UNITA "ethnic cleansing" in Uige Province bordering Zaire. There were substantiated reports of government reprisals against Zairians resident in Luanda suburbs, as well as "cleansing" during military operations.

Despite the overall deterioriation in the human rights situation, there were a few isolated improvements. Throughout the year the Government continued to release political prisoners. The Government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit UNITA prisoners in all but one facility. The electronic and print media were increasingly free to criticize human rights infractions.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Journalists credibly reported that government forces brutally interrogated and killed suspected UNITA sympathizers in Benguela Province. Eyewitnesses reported that police in Huila Province killed unarmed civilians indiscriminately. In a wave of violence in January, police and armed civilians targeted suspected UNITA supporters who "disappeared" or were killed. As the war continued, common criminal violence became indistinguishable from political violence. Fighting between members of the military and police and among military, police, and bandits in a large open air market on the outskirts of Luanda regularly resulted in fatalities.

Media and eyewitness reports noted that UNITA forces ambushed a civilian train in Huila Province in May, resulting in a large number of casualties. The first 140 victims, mainly women and young children, were buried in a mass grave at the site of the attack. Many more died en route to or at the hospital in Lubango. In August UNITA soldiers attacked three trucks that had left a World Food Program humanitarian relief convoy and killed three truckers. Subsequently, a policeman was killed as he examined the booby-trapped corpse of one of the truckers. The following month eyewitnesses reported that UNITA forces killed and disemboweled unarmed civilians in Bengo Province.

b. Disappearance

Both government and UNITA officials reported incidents of abduction and disappearance. The Government accused UNITA of abducting and killing civilians.

A considerable number of UNITA adherents remained missing from January conflicts in Huila and Namibe Provinces. The ICRC indicated that despite government cooperation, efforts to trace the missing failed because UNITA discouraged family members from revealing information to the ICRC. The bodies of some of the missing were reportedly burned.

In 1993 the Government allowed the ICRC to visit all UNITA prisoners throughout the country with the exception of the 19 people held in the "Laboratorio" in Luanda from mid-March to mid-May. The Laboratorio was known as the Ministry of Interior's high-security interrogation facility where torture was allegedly used.

The Government, with financial support from international nongovernmental organizations, employed the mass media and provincial government resources to search for family members of orphans and abandoned children.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Government and the National Assembly Subcommittee on Human Rights acknowledged that conditions in Angola's prisons were inhuman. Many prisons, lacking financial support from the Government, are unable to supply prisoners with food and medicine, and prisoners are thus forced to depend on international relief organizations and their families and friends. The Government allowed subcommittee personnel, as well as the ICRC, access to all prisons except the Laboratorio in Luanda.

According to credible reports government personnel tortured detainees at the Laboratorio, holding them incommunicado for months with a daily ration of two spoons of rice and one half liter of dirty water. If interrogators were not satisfied with the information they were being given, detainees were taken unclothed to a cement cell, approximately the size of a large telephone booth with no windows, and for 10 minutes at a time subjected to electric shocks. Reportedly, at the end of these sessions they could not see, stand, or walk unassisted for several hours. There were credible eyewitness reports of the debilitated physical and mental condition of UNITA members upon their release from that facility.

In January there were credible reports that UNITA forces in Uige mutilated unarmed civilians.

In March accounts emerged, reinforced by a video tape, of an incident at Huambo where government forces were accused of using a shield of women and children hostages to cover their retreat. Government sources claim that the women and children accompanying the government forces had sought their protection.

In September first-hand media accounts reported that government forces in Benguela Province beat and shot UNITA prisoners in the legs and feet so that they would not run away.

Also, in September Portuguese television alleged that armed elements of a faction of the Enclave of Cabinda Liberation Front (FLEC), a separatist group in Cabinda Province, had cut off ears, noses, and lips of unarmed civilians.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In 1993 the Government mandated the transfer of the judicial process and prison system portfolios from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry, but the law was not scheduled to be implemented until 1994. During 1993 the Interior Ministry systematically, arbitrarily, and secretly detained individuals for all categories of crime, without trial, for indeterminate periods of time. Detainees had no rights. Persons detained in the Laboratorio were held incommunicado.

In January the ICRC reported that there were 1,100 known UNITA sympathizers under government detention in Luanda. They had all been released by the end of the year and reintegrated into Angolan society.

At mid-year UNITA held 287 known prisoners in the north; no statistics were available for late in the year. Throughout the first half of 1993, UNITA prevented the evacuation from Huambo and other UNITA-held areas of more than 400 foreigners trapped by renewed fighting. These hostages had all been released by year's end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

In October 1991, the Code for Penal Process was amended to bring Angola's judicial system in line with international norms; it guarantees a public trial, establishes a system of bail, and recognizes the accused's right to counsel and to testify.

The court system is comprised of municipal and provincial courts (the latter under the authority of the Ministry of Justice) of original jurisdiction and a Supreme Court at the appellate level. Although the 1992 Law on Constitutional Revision speaks of an independent judiciary, as does the 1991 amended Constitution, the President of the Republic appoints the Supreme Court judges (for life terms), and no National Assembly confirmation is required. Despite legal safeguards provided by law, significant shortcomings in the administration of justice persisted in 1993 and the Interior Ministry frequently did not respect due process of law in its arrest and detention procedures.

Municipal courts normally deal with summary cases on a daily basis. Judges are normally respected laymen, not licensed lawyers. Provincial courts, under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, are located in the 18 provincial capitals. Judges are nominated by the Supreme Court and attorneys general by the Attorney General of the Republic. Cases are divided into four categories: criminal, civil and administrative, family, and labor.

The judge and two laymen selected by the court are to act as jury. Normally cases are dispatched by a court within 3 months. The verdict is to be pronounced the day following the conclusion of the trial, in the presence of the defendant.

The Supreme Court has a total of 16 judges, all of whom are appointed by the President of the Republic upon recommendation by the Association of Magistrates. In 1993 only 9 of the 16 positions were filled. Cases are divided into two categories: criminal, and civil and administrative.

A person caught in the act of a crime can be arrested and detained immediately. Otherwise, arrests are supposed to be made openly, with a warrant signed by a judge or a provincial attorney general. Following arrest, the attorney general is supposed to release to the public the grounds for arrest before forwarding a case for trail. The prosecuting attorney and defense attorney have a maximum of 90 days to prepare a case. Detainees are to be allowed prompt access to family members and a lawyer.

In 1993 the Interior Ministry failed to respect due process of law in its arrest and detention procedures. Although the 1992 Law on Constitutional Revision calls for an independent judiciary and a constitutional tribunal, this tribunal has not yet been established. Both the Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly called for modernizing laws and enshrining basic legal rights, but practice has not yet caught up with these intentions.

There is no evidence that UNITA has set up a judicial system responsive to international judicial norms.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

There were no known specific complaints about arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. However, it was widely thought that the Government continued surveillance of certain categories of people, such as the UNITA National Assembly deputies.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

UNITA forces continued to attack and capture municipalities throughout the country in 1993, destroying infrastructure, including dams, bridges, electrical pylons, orphanages, schools, hospitals, and medical facilities.

In January the oil town of Soyo changed hands several times but ultimately fell under UNITA's control. In March UNITA, after 55 days of siege, expelled government forces from Huambo, Angola's second largest city. The death toll in this battle was estimated at 15,000, mostly civilians. Government forces were able to retake much of Benguela, Huila, and Bengo Provinces in August.

There were credible allegations that both the Government and UNITA engaged in indiscriminate killing of civilians and summary executions of prisoners of war. Both sides impeded provision of emergency relief supplies and assistance by the ICRC, nongovernmental voluntary organizations, and United Nations agencies. In UNITA-held Huambo, CARE International officials, visiting in June, described looting of supplies and confiscation of equipment by UNITA officials. In March UNITA sacked an orphanage outside Luanda. In August UNITA attacked a World Food Program convoy. As many as 30,000 people died during UNITA's siege of the city of Cuito, including 30 to 40 children each day who died of malnutrition. UNITA allowed only Portuguese and other foreigners to leave Cuito in September, and continued to prevent local residents from fleeing.

More than 20,000 Angolans have suffered amputation due to land mines. Credible sources including eyewitnesses reported that both sides conscripted young teenagers into military service (see also Section 1.c.).

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Angola's 1991 Constitution provides for freedom of expression, which was largely respected in 1993. Although the Government continues to own the press, there were editorials, articles, and cartoons critical of the Government's prosecution of the war and its failure to respond to Angola's worsening economic and social crises. Opinions of political opposition leaders, businesspeople, and National Assembly deputies critical of the Government on issues such as human rights also routinely appeared on national radio and television.

Foreign journalists register with the Government Press Center for access to officials and are permitted travel within Angola, although at times the conflict made this difficult. Both the Government and UNITA invited journalists to planned press events and to visit areas under their control.

The Angolan Journalists Union (SJA) alleged in 1993 that the Government continued to restrict press freedom, including access to controversial public figures. The SJA also accused the Government of blocking its attempts to gain information on the murder of two Angolan journalists in Lobito in May. The results of the police investigation had not been made public at year's end.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution guarantees the right of peaceful assembly and association, provided a 3-day notice is given to the authorities. In 1993, however, the war, increased violent crime, and a precarious security situation in urban areas discouraged normal civic assembly and association activities. There were no known violations of the right of assembly by the authorities.

Regulations allow the Government to deny required registration to private associations on security grounds. There were no known instances of such denials in 1993.

UNITA did not tolerate traditional assembly and association in areas under its control.

c. Freedom of Religion

Religion plays an important role in Angolan society; some 85 percent of the population is either Roman Catholic or Protestant; the rest is animist. There is separation of church and state. Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution and is accorded in practice. All religious sects are welcome in Angola, and links may be maintained with coreligionists in other countries.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The civil war inhibited freedom of movement within the country. However, according to U.N. statistics, over a million people escaped to government-controlled territory from the interior just ahead of UNITA's advancing troops. At the end of 1993, there were reportedly 2 million displaced persons who had fled from warfare in the countryside. However, wartime conditions prevented physical access to many areas of the country by humanitarian organizations and a precise number of persons severely affected by the war remained unavailable.

Citizens have the right to change residence and workplace, but the scarcity of habitable dwellings as well as the massive unemployment and underemployment effectively impeded most voluntary changes.

The Government denied permission to travel abroad to UNITA National Assembly deputies following the defection of the first two well-known UNITA personalities who were authorized to depart Angola. The Government made it difficult for other opposition party members to travel abroad during legislative recess by limiting their access to requisite foreign exchange. MPLA deputies had access to foreign exchange at favorable rates.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Angolan people for the first time exercised their constitutional right to change their government through peaceful means in the October 1992 presidential elections. The 17-year civil war resumed in late October 1992 when UNITA rejected the election results. A second round of presidential elections was postponed indefinitely. The resumption of the war slowed the democratization process significantly. Consequently, and despite the elections, governmental power remained in the hands of a small MPLA elite.

Guidelines for local government elections, scheduled to take place 2 years after democratic presidential and legislative elections, were elaborated and placed before the Council of Ministers. However, the Council did not act on the guidelines because of the war.

The National Assembly consists of 130 deputies elected on a national basis and 90 elected to represent the provinces. The MPLA-dominated Assembly was active during 1993, convoking members of the Government publicly to explain policies on a wide range of issues, including human rights and the economy. The Assembly passed, and the President promulgated, laws on human rights, the judicial system, military service, ethics and conduct of Assembly deputies, and national defense.

Women occupied 32 of the 220 National Assembly seats. One of the nine Supreme Court judges is a woman.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Because UNITA controlled most of Angola's national territory, the Government had little influence on investigations of human rights abuses in most of the country.

There were no functioning Angolan nongovernmental human rights associations or groups. The two national human rights groups, the Angolan Human Rights Nucleus and the Angolan Human Rights Association, were inactive in 1993 due to inexperienced leadership and financial difficulties.

A newly established Human Rights Subcommittee in the MPLA-dominated Parliament was active. Representatives from 11 opposition parties participated in National Assembly debate. The Attorney General and Justice Minister were called to testify before the National Assembly eight times on human rights issues.

The Government allowed the ICRC and members of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the National Assembly to visit all political prisoners and prisons with the exception of those held in the Laboratorio in Luanda. At the conclusion of the Assembly's first session, the Subcommittee published a report critical of the Government, noting that there were laws to protect human rights but no mechanisms to enforce the laws. It also noted the abysmal condition of the prisons and the lack of due process.

UNITA did not allow international organizations access to most of the territory under its control. Among the few exceptions were Lutheran World Federation activities in Cazombo (Moxico province) and the Lundas; UNHCR activities in Uige; and Medecins Sans Frontieres in Uige and Huambo. UNITA cooperated with the ICRC regarding visitation of prisoners and hostages in Huambo and in the evacuation of 415 foreigners from UNITA-held territory. However, UNITA's confrontational relationship with international organizations was further tarnished by shooting incidents at M'Banza Congo, Uige, and Luena, when UNITA fired on clearly marked, unarmed humanitarian assistance aircraft. The incident in Luena resulted in one death.

The Government permitted relatively unrestricted access to UNITA-besieged cities, spent considerable sums on airdrops of food to the city of Cuito, and subsidized the international humanitarian assistance effort throughout Angola by providing extremely cheap fuel. However, the Government steadfastly blocked attempts by international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to Huambo.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Angolan law stipulates that all citizens are equal regardless of race, ethnic origin, sex, religion or, social status. The International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of Experts has noted that this law omits reference to political opinion. Angola is a multiracial society, and in practice there was little evidence of official discrimination.


Women held senior positions in the military (primarily in the medical field), civil service, and political parties. The media occasionally addressed women's issues. The law proclaims equal pay for equal work, but in practice women were not compensated equally. Adult women can open a bank account, accept employment, and own property without interference from their spouse.

Little information was available on the extent of violence against women, but it is believed to be widespread. The number of assault cases brought by women to courts appeared to be increasing. In many besieged cities, women swelled the ranks of the handicapped because when they foraged in the fields in search for food to feed their family, they often set off land mines. Due to dire economic circumstances, increasing numbers of women engage in prostitution. The clergy reports that marriages are breaking down at an alarming rate.


The growing presence of street children in Luanda and other cities indicates a breakdown in Angola's family institutions caused by the war and the deteriorating economy. Young females were accepted into private homes to become domestics while young males roamed the market places and streets. The living conditions in government youth hostels were so inhuman the dispossessed chose to sleep on city streets. There were no active private children's rights advocacy groups. The government-sponsored National Institute for Children was viewed as an MPLA organ and was inadequate to address the magnitude of the problem.

The extent to which female genital mutilation is practiced cannot be verified. However, medical authorities say that it may have occurred in limited fashion in remote areas of Moxico province, bordering Zaire and Zambia.

Indigenous People

Angola's population includes 1 to 2 percent of pre-Bantu stock indigenous peoples. Mostly hunters and gatherers, these Khoisan and other linguistic groups are scattered throughout the southern provinces of Namibe, Cunene, and Cuando Cubango. There was no evidence that they suffered from official discrimination or harassment, but they do not participate actively in the political or economic life of the country and their ability to influence government decisions concerning their interests is marginal at best.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The long civil conflict has deep ethnic and urban versus rural roots. The MPLA is heavily supported by the Mbundu ethnic group, which makes up an estimated 25 percent of the population, and by many city dwellers, notably in Luanda. It also has strong backing among the small number of white and mixed-race Angolans who occupy technical and governmental positions. Election results indicated a high level of support among other ethnic groups apart from the Ovimbundu. UNITA has its principal backing among the country's largest single ethnic group, the Ovimbundu, who make up an estimated 37 percent of the population and are concentrated in the central and southern parts of Angola. The Government continued to claim that inflammatory UNITA rhetoric exacerbated ethnic tensions by dwelling on the perceived colonial ties of white and mixed-race Angolans.

Foreigners resident in Angola were not immune to deadly violence. In January mobs in Luanda, angered by allegations that Zaire was helping UNITA, went on a rampage of rape, lynching, and arson against Zaireans and others thought to be Zairians. As many as 60 persons perished.

People with Disabilities

There are many physically disabled individuals throughout Angola, the majority of whom are casualties of land mines and other war-related injuries. While there was no obvious discrimination against them, the Government did little to ameliorate their physical, financial, or social distress. Physical access for the disabled to public buildings is not mandated.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1991 Constitution recognizes the right of Angolans to form trade unions and to bargain collectively. However, the law governing unions has yet to be passed.

Organized labor is concentrated in the cities. There is no organized labor in agriculture, traditionally the main source of income for the majority of Angolans.

The National Union of Angolan Workers (UNTA), the official labor union of the ruling MPLA, remained the principal workers' organization. Two other groups without affiliation to a political party, the National Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Angola and the Democratic Confederation of Angolan Workers, waited in the wings for peace and the new labor union law. The war, the Government's mismanagement of the economy, and the lack of necessary legislation effectively stifled these two organizations. The Union of Angolan Journalists, formed in 1992, was active, respected, and was not harassed by the Government.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike. Legislation passed in 1991 provides the legal framework to strike. The law prohibits lockouts and worker occupation of places of employment, and provides protection for nonstriking workers. Strikes by military and police personnel, prison workers, and firemen are prohibited.

There were strikes against the Government in 1993 by private fishermen obliged to register at the Ministry of Fisheries, and by employees of the state-owned cement factory. Settlements of strikes were negotiated expeditiously.

Laws which allow free labor organizations to affiliate with international labor bodies have not been enacted. UNTA, the MPLA labor union, is affiliated with the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions. The new Angolan free trade union federations expect to apply for membership in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as soon as relevant domestic legislation is enacted.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Angolan workers have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively; discrimination against union members is prohibited.

However, in 1993 the Ministry of Labor and Social Security continued to set wages and benefits on an annual basis. Salaries for public servants were set at the Minister's discretion; salaries of employees of state-owned enterprises were based on profits of the previous year and available loans from the National Bank. Loans were predicated on profit margins and on the percentage of government ownership. In Angola's small private sector, wages are based on multiples of the minimum salary set by the Government.

Angola has no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Government indicated that in mid-1994 it would introduce legislation to prohibit forced labor, reversing laws and provisions which had been cited by the ILO for violations of its Convention No. 105. The outdated legislation authorizes forced labor for breaches of worker discipline and participation in strikes.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age for employment is 14. The Inspector General of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws. The Labor Ministry maintains employment centers where prospective employees register. These centers screen out applicants under the age of 14. However, children at a much younger age work on family farms and in the informal economy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In 1993 the Council of Ministers approved a minimum salary for laborers equivalent to $7 per month (by the end of the year reduced to $2 by hyperinflation) and for civil servants a minimum salary equivalent to $137 per month (reduced to $40).

The minimum salary was insufficient to support a worker and family. Accordingly, most workers depended on the thriving informal sector, second jobs at night, subsistence farming where security permits, theft, corruption, or remittances from abroad to maintain an acceptable standard of living. The normal workweek, established by a 1982 government decree, is 44 hours. No information was available on adequacy of work conditions or health standards, but it was assumed they were generally low, given the extreme underdevelopment of the Angolan economy, lack of enforcement mechanisms, and the war.

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