Angola: Human rights - the gateway to peace

Once again the Angolan peace process has collapsed. Again the brunt of the suffering is being borne by helpless civilians as aid workers and peacekeepers withdraw from war zones. The long conflict has bred contempt for the right to life and other human rights. Sadly, the search for peace has also sometimes neglected the importance of upholding human rights. Peace is unattainable without respect for human rights. This report, published as the United Nations (UN) considers its future role in Angola, is offered to stimulate debate about human rights in Angola and how they can best be protected. It describes human rights abuses which have occurred in 1998 and concludes that decisive action to protect human rights is not only a moral imperative but also an essential foundation for a lasting peace. It contains some recommendations which, if implemented, would offer some protection to the civilian population while new attempts are made to end the war. Action is needed not only for the sake of Angola but for the region as a whole, as the Angolan war is linked with conflicts in neighbouring states. During 1998 the peace process in Angola unravelled and in December heavy fighting spread through the central highlands and to other parts of the country. The União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, had failed to comply with the Lusaka Protocol (1994) requirements to allow the state to extend its authority over UNITA-controlled territory and to demilitarise its troops. In the fighting hundreds were killed, including civilians who died as a result of indiscriminate shelling. There were also reports of deliberate and arbitrary killings. Over 200,000 people were displaced in December alone. While, in 1998, some efforts were made to increase protection for human rights, efforts to create a state of law were undermined by a lack of political will to bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice. In Luanda, the capital, and other towns people who criticized the government received death threats and criminal suspects were ill-treated and some extrajudicially executed. In areas where there was conflict government forces arrested people. Some subsequently 'disappeared': others were extrajudicially executed. UNITA forces were responsible for massive human rights abuses including the killing of other government officials, traditional leaders and others suspected of supporting the government. In Cabinda, an Angolan enclave separated from Angola by a strip of territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo, government forces violated human rights and armed separatist groups carried out abuses. Amnesty International strongly believes that continued monitoring and protection of human rights in Angola is a crucial aspect of the search for lasting peace. The human rights office attached to the UN Observer Mission in Angola has made an important contribution both to the protection and promotion of human rights in Angola. Amnesty International is calling for this work to continue in areas not directly affected by the conflict. The organization is also appealing to the Angolan government to give priority to ending human rights violations by its officials and to ensure that the police and soldiers fully respect national and international human rights laws and standards including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. Amnesty International also urges the authorities to bring to justice those suspected of violating human rights. Amnesty International continues to call on UNITA and armed Cabindan separatists to fulfil their obligations under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to protect the lives and physical integrity of unarmed civilians and of combatants who have laid down their arms.

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