World Report 2010 - Angola
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||20 January 2010|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, World Report 2010 - Angola, 20 January 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b586cfd37.html [accessed 24 April 2014]|
Events of 2009
More than one year after the September 2008 parliamentary elections – the first elections held in Angola since 1992 – Angolans in 2009 were unable to vote, as planned, in a presidential election. The government postponed the vote pending the completion of a constitutional review that is ongoing at this writing. The review has been strongly influenced by the current president, José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for 30 years. The Constitutional Commission dominated by the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) followed the president's suggestions to propose a new parliament-based model for electing the president, rather than holding separate elections. It remains unpredictable when the new constitution might be adopted and what its implications for upcoming elections might be.
The 2008 legislative elections produced a landslide victory for the MPLA. No independent investigation into the numerous shortcomings of those elections has taken place.
Although Angola has been at peace since 2002, and a peace agreement was signed in Cabinda in 2006, an intermittent, armed separatist conflict has persisted in the enclave since 1975. The Angolan Armed Forces' (FAA) presence there continues to be stronger than elsewhere in the country, and the military has stepped up operations to wipe out remaining guerrilla forces in light of the forthcoming (January 2010) Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament, some matches being slated to take place in Cabinda city.
Human rights scrutiny remains restricted in Cabinda, particularly in the interior. The government has not responded to calls for an independent investigation into allegations of torture and other serious human rights violations committed by the FAA, and perpetrators of torture are not prosecuted.
Since September 2007 the military has arbitrarily arrested more than 40 rebel suspects. Most of them claim to have been subjected to torture and mistreatment designed to extort confessions during lengthy incommunicado custody. They were eventually brought to a civilian prison and charged with "crimes against the security of the state" and other related crimes, but in several cases were denied due process rights.
In September 2008, in a trial that was patently unfair, a military court sentenced Fernando Lelo, a civilian and former Voice of America correspondent, to 12 years in jail, and five FAA soldiers accused along with him to 13 years' imprisonment, for alleged involvement in rebel armed attacks in 2007. In August 2009 the Supreme Military Court reviewed Lelo's conviction and acquitted him. But the court also re-sentenced three of his co-accused to 24 years' and the other two to 20 years' imprisonment, despite lack of evidence and serious torture allegations. In four trials between June and November 2009, the Cabinda civil court sentenced nine men accused of national security offenses to up to 20 years in jail, despite serious allegations of torture in initial military custody, while it acquitted 11 for lack of evidence.
The media environment continues to be restricted, despite the emergence of a number of new media outlets since 2008. More than three years after a new press law was enacted in May 2006, the legislation required to implement crucial parts of the law, which would improve the legal protection of freedom of expression and access to information, has still not passed. Independent private radio stations cannot broadcast nationwide, while the government's licensing practices have favored new radio and television stations linked with the MPLA. The public media remain strongly biased in favor of the ruling party.
Defamation remains a criminal offense in the new press law. Other vague offenses, such as "abuse of press freedom," are open to official manipulation. Since 2007 government officials have increasingly pressed charges against private media editors and journalists for libel and related offenses. This trend continued in 2009. In July a court sentenced Eugénio Mateus, a journalist with the private weekly O País, to three months in prison for libel and "abuse of press freedom," suspended for two years, following a complaint by the Angolan Armed Forces chief of staff. The lawsuit was based on a 2007 article published in the weekly A Capital that criticized the FAA for allegedly renting out state property. Also in July the editor of A Capital, Tandala Francisco, was informed of a libel lawsuit for an opinion article critical of President Dos Santos. In October, Welwitchia "Tchizé" dos Santos, the president's daughter and ,until recently, a member of parliament, pressed charges against the secretary-general of the Angolan Journalist Union (SJA), Luísa Rogério, as well as Vítor Silva, director of the private weekly Novo Jornal, and Ana Margoso, a journalist of the same weekly, for libel. Luísa Rogério had criticized "Tchizé"'s appointment to the state television channel TPA's management commission as incompatible with her role as an MP, while Novo Jornal had reported about the controversy. At this writing the proceedings are ongoing.
Such litigation, in an increasingly difficult economic environment for the private media, perpetuates a widespread culture of self-censorship that restricts the public's access to independent information.
Housing Rights and Forced Evictions
Angola's laws do not give adequate protection against forced eviction, nor do they enshrine the right to adequate housing. In 2009 the government stepped up forced evictions and house demolitions in areas that it claims to be reserved for public construction in the capital, Luanda, and increasingly also in provincial towns. In July, in the largest-scale demolition operation ever in Luanda, armed police and military destroyed 3,000 houses in the Iraque and Bagdad neighborhoods, leaving an estimated 15,000 residents destitute of their homes and belongings. Immediately following the forced evictions, security forces prevented residents from demonstrating in front of the president's palace, and in August the provincial government repeatedly delayed permission to hold a public protest demonstration organized by local human rights organizations.
The new government in 2008 announced its intention to allocate more resources for public housing over the next five years and to construct one million houses in the country. However, many of the people forcibly evicted in recent years continue to await compensation and alternative housing.
Mass Expulsion of Foreign Migrants
In 2009 the Angolan authorities expelled tens of thousands of allegedly irregular migrants and their families – most of them from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Mass expulsion operations were carried out in the eastern diamond-rich provinces in the first half of 2009 and in the northern provinces of Cabinda and Zaire in September. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that Angolan military and police committed serious abuses, including rape and pillage, during these mass expulsions. Refugees and asylum seekers in Nzage, Lunda Norte, told Human Rights Watch that military temporarily arrested them in door-to-door operations, pillaged their houses, and raped several women during a mass expulsion operation in May. In Cabinda, both migrants and Cabindans told Human Rights Watch that border police beat and injured people whom they assumed to be irregular migrants and transported and held them in inhumane and degrading conditions during mass expulsions in September and October.
Mass expulsions of foreigners, particularly from the diamond exploration areas, have taken place repeatedly since 2003 amid allegations of serious rights abuses by Angola's military and police. In October 2009 the DRC authorities ordered the unprecedented reciprocal expulsion of Angolan irregular migrants from Bas-Congo, as a result of which tens of thousands of Angolans were forced to return to Angola.
Human Rights Defenders
The environment for human rights defenders remains restricted. Threats by government officials in 2007 to ban several national and international civil society organizations have not materialized, and the government's long-announced review of the legislation concerning civil society organizations has remained pending. However, some of the most outspoken human rights organizations have continued to struggle with unresolved lawsuits against banning orders and threats. An appeal against the 2006 Cabinda provincial court ruling banning the civic association Mpalabanda is still pending in the Supreme Court. Legal proceedings to ban the Association Justice Peace and Democracy (AJPD), going back to a lawsuit initiated in 2003, have not seen any development since the Supreme Court took charge of the case in May 2009.
In August the coordinator of the housing rights organization SOS Habitat, Luiz Araújo, claimed to have been subjected to intense surveillance and an assault attempt against his office premises and his life.
Key International Actors
Angola is one of Africa's biggest oil producers, served as chair of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2009, and is China's second most important source of oil and most important commercial partner in Africa. This oil wealth, and Angola's regional military power, have greatly limited leverage of partners and international organizations pushing for good governance and human rights. Commercial partners remain reluctant to criticize the government, to protect their economic interests.
However, falling oil and diamond prices and the global economic crisis have hit Angola's fast-growing economy. In 2009 the government invested more efforts to seek support from international partners, including from the International Monetary Fund, to cope with budget shortfalls.
On his first visit to Angola, in March 2009 at the invitation of President Dos Santos, Pope Benedict XVI publicly raised important human rights issues, such as the urgent need for good governance and better distribution of the country's wealth to benefit the poor majority. The Vatican's diplomatic efforts were not successful, however, in unblocking the Roman Catholic Church-owned Rádio Ecclésia's long-awaited signal extension beyond Luanda.