Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

Angola's civil war continued. The human cost of the war in 1994 was impossible to determine with precision, but the United Nations estimated that more than 100,000 people have died. In October 1993, 250 child deaths were reported each day in the besieged government-held city of Malanje alone. In September 1994, the U.N. Secretary-General reported that there had been a 10 percent increase in the number of people severely affected by the war since February 1994, and that nearly 3.7 million Angolans, mostly displaced and other victims of conflict, were in need of emergency supplies, including essential medicines, vaccines and food aid.

The appalling levels of death and destruction were in large part consequences of the widespread and systematic violations of the laws of war for which this conflict has been notable. Both the government and the rebels, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Uniao Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola, UNITA) have been responsible for these violations. In particular, indiscriminate shelling of besieged cities by UNITA resulted in massive destruction of property and the death of untold numbers of civilians. Indiscriminate bombing by the government took a high civilian toll. As noted by an Africa expert from the U.S. Department of Defense, "This type of warfare bears mainly, cruelly and disproportionately on the populace, which is caught between the warring parties." If the human cost is staggering, so is the lack of international attention. Angola has earned the sobriquet of "the forgotten war."

Thousands of civilians were killed or injured in the indiscriminate government bombing of population centers in UNITA-controlled zones during 1994. The government also actively recruited child soldiers. Human Rights Watch witnessed and photographed the recruitment of minors in May and June, and interviewed some of the child recruits. Foreign nationals, including Katangans under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, were also illegally conscripted by the government into its army.

UNITA laid siege to a number of cities and towns in 1994, most notably Malanje and Kuito. UNITA sieges caused widespread starvation of the civilian population. UNITA attacks on humanitarian relief operations were numerous and well-documented. On June 21 UNITA attacked a relief convoy between Lobito and Bocoio with mortar and small arms fire, destroying fifteen World Food Program (WFP) vehicles. Two WFP workers were wounded.

Reports about the torture of prisoners at the Ministry of Interior's high-security interrogation facility, Central de Criminalistica, known as the "Laboratorio" at Catete road, Luanda, continue. Extrajudicial executions also continued in the Luanda area on a reduced scale. In May 1994, Human Rights Watch interviewed a family in Samba suburb who claimed that their son was killed by the police because he came from central Angola. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimated that there were some 1,100 UNITA detainees in Luanda from the 1992 purge of the city. Many of these were free to move around the city, but could not leave it.

UNITA held large numbers of government prisoners in 1994. It provided ICRC some access to these prisoners. In May 1994, the ICRC for the first time visited government prisoners held by UNITA in Huambo. While in Huambo, Human Rights Watch/Africa was told that these prisoners were held there as an interim measure before being sent to "re-education camps," where captured soldiers were prepared to work for UNITA as porters. UNITA also continued to abduct foreign nationals. On August 26, UNITA soldiers seized two Africare employees north of Porto Amboim.

Mine warfare intensified after hostilities resumed following the September 1992 elections, with thousands of new mines being laid by the government and UNITA to obstruct roads and bridges, to encircle besieged towns with mine belts up to three kilometers wide and to despoil agricultural lands. There were an estimated nine to fifteen million mines laid throughout the country. The U.N. estimated that the number of amputees as a result of mines injury will reach 70,000 in 1994.

But the balance on the battlefield began to change in August 1993, with government forces recapturing from UNITA large tracts of Benguela, Huila, and Bengo provinces. The government made further gains in 1994. Between March and July, the area dominated by UNITA was reduced from 60 percent to 40 percent of national territory. Several strategic centers, such as Ndalatando (Cuanza Norte province), Cafunfo (Lunda Norte), and several occupied wards of Kuito, were recaptured by the government. The loss of Cafunfo, a key diamond area, was particularly hard on UNITA. UNITA was financing its military campaign, including arms imports in breach of U.N. arms embargo, with Angola's diamond wealth.

In response to its greater isolation and battlefield losses, UNITA increased its forcible recruitment of the local population in its war effort. Underage conscription also significantly increased since mid-1994, especially in the UNITA-controlled city of Huambo.

The renewed conflict, and accompanying human rights abuses and violations of laws of war, were being fueled by new flows of arms into the country. In 1993 the government repudiated the "Triple Zero" arms embargo clause of the 1992 Bicesse cease-fire agreement, and went on an international spending spree, buying more than $3.5 billion worth of weapons in 1993 and 1994. Weapons procurement reached record levels. The government of Angola was unquestionably the largest arms purchaser in sub-Saharan Africa during the past two years. Some analysts believed that Angola has mortgaged the next seven years of oil production to finance arms purchases, even though its current oil reserves are estimated to last only fifteen years.

The Angolan government was buying weapons from numerous governmental sources in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, although much of the weaponry was purchased from private international arms dealers. Russia was the largest supplier to Angola. Other countries apparently involved in arming and training the government's forces included Brazil, Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Portugal, and Spain. By supplying arms, Portugal and Russia undermined their role as members of the official "Observing Troika" for the peace process.

A private South African "security consultant" firm, Executive Outcomes, apparently provided armed personnel to assist both government forces and UNITA, and at the time of writing had a multi-million dollar contract with the Angolan government.

UNITA was purchasing large amounts of weapons from foreign sources, as well. Such purchases violated both the 1991 Bicesse Accords and the international arms and oil embargo against UNITA imposed by the U.N. in September 1993. UNITA was effective in "sanctions-busting" through neighboring countries, especially South Africa, Namibia, and Zaire. UNITA appeared to obtain much of its weaponry from private sources, rather than foreign governments, although there was some evidence that Russia, Zaire, and others provided arms. Zaire became the most important source of support for UNITA, becoming a transit area and conduit for diamond sales and weapons transfers.

The Right to Monitor

The sole functioning human rights group in Angola, the Luanda-based Angolan Association of Human Rights (Associacao Angolana dos Direitos do Homen), experienced police harassment and, in May and June the detention and imprisonment of its members, including its Secretary General Lourenco Agostinho and William Tonet. The detentions followed immediately after the publication of a critical report about prison conditions, which blamed the Ministry of the Interior for corruption and breaches of international human rights standards.

Incidents of harassment of journalists increased in mid-1994 with several detentions. Attempts to publish articles about corruption in the military were also censored on several occasions and access to war zones remained restricted.

UNITA continued to tightly control its zones. Although some journalists in early 1994 were able to move freely in Huambo, this ended by mid-1994 as UNITA tightened its control again.

Angolan journalists have been trying to set up a human rights training project to improve the quality and focus of their reporting.

U.S. and U.N. Policy

With the exception of the official recognition of the government in 1993, U.S. policy under the Clinton administration changed little from U.S. policy at the end of the Bush administration. Only at the urging of key members of Congress did the administration in late 1993 appoint a special envoy to assist U.N. peace efforts and attend the talks.

U.S. policy in Angola during 1994 focused on the slow and tortuous peace talks taking place in Lusaka, Zambia. In an attempt to push the process forward, President Clinton, on advice from Paul Hare, special representative to the Angolan Peace Process, sent two letters, in April and in May to President dos Santos. The letters urged the Angolan president to accept proposals put forward by the mediators. President dos Santos replied on May 27, agreeing to the proposals but also adding a list of his government's conditions. These details were also discussed by the Angolan president with a delegation of U.S. senators, led by Senator Paul Simon, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, who were on a fact-finding visit at the time. President Clinton sent a letter in early June to UNITA head Jonas Savimbi urging him to accept the Angolan government's offer of positions in central, provincial, and local administrations.

Apparently fearing that public attention to human rights abuses by the government and UNITA might jeopardize the peace process, the State Department largely kept silent about human rights in Angola. Testimony before Congress over the past year concentrated on developments in the peace process and humanitarian concerns, but there was little public censure of the warring parties for violations against noncombatants. Growing government confidence on the battlefield led to a growing coolness between the U.S. and the government as Luanda appeared to be increasingly critical of international mediation efforts.

The Lusaka peace talks, which started on November 15, 1993, were the focus of U.N. mediation attempts. Chaired by U.N. Special Representative Alionne Blondin Beye, with the participation of Hare and observers from Russia and Portugal, the talks have taken place behind closed doors. The negotiations included a timetable for a cease-fire and UNITA troop demobilization, and a formula for national reconciliation between the two parties. Following clear progress on military issues in the peace talks, on December 13 the government presented to Beye its proposal for a national reconciliation government.

Soon thereafter, the Lusaka talks broke for consultations in the wake of allegations that the government had bombed Kuito, where it was rumored Savimbi was attending a soccer match. Talks resumed in January 1994, with the government and UNITA negotiators agreeing on January 31 on the composition of both the police and anti-riot units. The talks progressed slowly, with the pace determined by calculations on each side on the basis of the situation in the battlefield.

Despite this appearance of progress the talks bogged down in discussions on power-sharing. In late April the U.S. intervened with President Clinton sending letters to both sides. By June the outstanding issue became who would gain the governorship of Huambo. Finally, on September 5, following military set-backs across the country, UNITA compromised by accepting the complete set of U.N. proposals on national reconciliation put forth during the talks, thereby avoiding also a further package of sanctions.

The Lusaka Protocol was finally initialled by both sides on October 31 and the signing of the cease-fire agreement should follow. However, fighting also increased across the country with both sides trying to grab territory to strengthen their territorial positions before any cease-fire is signed. By the middle of November, government troops had recaptured the second city of Huambo from UNITA, and continued military activity appeared to be delaying the signing of an agreement.

Compromise was the U.N. strategy in Lusaka. Accountability for, or discussion about human rights abuses or future monitoring of human rights observance did not play a prominent role in the negotiations. Human Rights Watch urged that it should be integral to any agreement that a contingent of full-time U.N. human rights monitors be deployed to observe, investigate, and publicize violations of human rights and humanitarian law by all parties.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa

Human Rights Watch/Africa conducted a joint mission with the Arms Project to Angola in May/June. This mission included the first ever Human Rights Watch visit into UNITA zones. In September a second mission to South Africa provided further information. In November, Angola: Arms Trade And Violations of The Laws of War Since the 1992 Elections, was published. It was timed to focus attention on continued weapons flows to the country and to press for the prioritization of human rights monitoring in the future U.N. mission following the reaching of a lasting peace agreement.

Human Rights Watch/Africa was actively engaged in the promotion of measures to address human rights concerns on Angola with the U.S. Congress, the U.N's Department of Humanitarian Affairs and various European and southern African governments, conducting briefings, and highlighting the nature and scale of humanitarian concerns. In addition, Human Rights Watch/Africa gave frequent radio, television and press interviews with U.S., African, and European journalists, and presented its findings on Angola in several academic forums, such as the April "Why Angola Matters" conference at the University of Cambridge, England.

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