2001 Scores

Status: Not Free
Freedom Rating: 6.0
Civil Liberties: 6
Political Rights: 6

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Angola received an upward trend arrow due to greater freedom exercised by civil society and opposition political parties.


Confident from gains on the battlefield, President José Eduardo dos Santos extended a pardon offer to his adversary of 25 years, Jonas Savimbi, if the guerrilla leader publicly expressed regret for the war. Savimbi rejected the offer. Efforts to end the war that had resumed in 1998 were stepped up through the more active involvement of the Roman Catholic Church. Thousands of people participated in a peace march in the capital, Luanda, in June.

Angola has been at war since shortly after independence from Portugal in 1975. During the cold war, the United States and South Africa backed UNITA while the former Soviet Union and Cuba supported the Marxist Dos Santos government. The conflict has claimed at least half a million lives.

The United Nations Security Council voted in February 1999 to end the UN peacekeeping mission in Angola following the collapse of the peace process and the shooting down of two UN planes. However, the UN maintains an office in the country. Neither the MPLA nor UNITA has ever fully complied with the 1994 Lusaka peace accords. UN secretary general Kofi Annan warned in October that he feared Angola's conflict could spread across the borders into Zambia and Namibia and threaten peace and security in the southern Africa region. In Namibia, both Namibian and Angolan forces, as well as UNITA, have been accused of rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions and torture. There have been raids by UNITA across the Zambian border, and attacks by Angolan government forces.

A Catholic Church-sponsored Congress for Peace was held in Luanda in September 2000, bringing together civil society groups, a wide cross-section of church members, opposition politicians, and officials from the ruling party. The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) have traditionally dominated peace discussions, excluding other Angolans.

Despite greater freedom allowed in discussing the civil war, repression of the press continued with a number of arrests and trials that human rights groups say have been unfair. Journalists denounced plans for a new "gag law," which incorporates articles included in a state security law and would make it nearly impossible to cover any matter relating to the country's political life without risking incarceration.

Petroleum accounts for 90 percent of government revenue, but state corruption and a lack of transparency have prevented the average Angolan from benefiting from the wealth. In May 2000, the government signed on to an International Monetary Fund program for transparency and accountability in the oil industry in an effort to unblock Western donor budgetary financing. Angola has been mortgaging its oil earnings to raise commercial loans and has also used its oil revenue to procure weapons. Angola accounts for about ten percent of annual global production of diamonds, which UNITA has used to fund its weapons purchases. International sanctions have been placed against UNITA, but there are numerous reports of sanctions busting.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Angolans freely elected their representatives for the only time in the September 1992 UN-supervised presidential and legislative elections. The vote was described by international observers as generally free and fair despite many irregularities. But Savimbi rejected his defeat to Dos Santos in the first round of presidential voting and resumed the war.

The MPLA dominates the 220-member national assembly, although 70 UNITA members continue to sit in parliament. New elections were provisionally scheduled for 2001, but the government says they will be held "only if conditions permit." Opposition parties met in September 2000 to define a strategy for their participation in future elections and decided that they should contribute to resolve the country's problems together. More than 100 political parties exist in Angola, and so far they have seemed to take no real steps towards cohesion. Twelve opposition parties hold seats in parliament.

Religious freedom is generally respected, and the Roman Catholic Church has taken on an increasingly prominent role in trying to bring about peace. Serious human rights abuses, including torture, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and extrajudicial execution, by both government and rebel security forces have been widespread. Both sides conduct forced recruitment of civilians, including minors. Local courts rule on civil matters and petty crime in some areas, but an overall lack of training and infrastructure inhibit judicial proceedings, which are also heavily influenced by the government. Many prisoners were detained for long periods in life-threatening conditions while awaiting trial.

Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, the media have suffered a serious clampdown characterized by severe and sometimes violent measures. A new draft press law has been described as a "gag law." It includes 81 articles, one of which guarantees presidential immunity to criticism and possible prison terms of up to eight years. The draft law also gives authorities the right to decide who can be a journalist, and the power to seize or ban publications at their discretion. Journalists who are arrested may be held for 30 days until charges are filed, and journalists can be prosecuted within a two-year period from the date of publication. Public debate on the bill ended in October 2000.

In March 2000, Rafael Marques, a freelance journalist who had written an article criticizing Dos Santos, was sentenced to six months imprisonment and a heavy fine for defamation. He was unlawfully detained and denied legal counsel of his choice during the trial. The sentence was later suspended. André Mussamo, a radio journalist, was accused of divulging state secrets in an article which he had drafted but not published. He was detained for more than three months.

Despite legal protections, de facto societal discrimination against women remains strong, particularly in rural areas. There is a high incidence of spousal abuse. Women are most likely to become victims of land mines because they are usually the ones who forage for food and firewood.

Labor rights are guaranteed by the constitution, but only a few independent unions are functioning and those exist in the cities. The government dominates the labor movement and restricts worker rights, although there has been some improvement. The vast majority of rural agricultural workers remain outside the modern economic sector, and their livelihood has been further jeopardized by the war.

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