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Monday, 1 June 2009

The Troubled Angola Human Rights Report 2008

File:José Eduardo dos Santos 2.jpg
Eduardo dos Santos, President of Angola

According to the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the government's human rights record was poor, with numerous, serious problems. Human rights abuses included the abridgement of citizens’ right to elect officials at all levels; unlawful killings by police, military, and private security forces; security force torture, beatings, and rape; harsh prison conditions; official corruption and impunity; arbitrary arrest and detention; judicial inefficiency and lack of independence; lengthy pretrial detention; lack of due process; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and assembly; forced evictions without compensation; and discrimination, violence, and abuse against women and children. The 1992 elections, won by the MPLA, were regarded by U.N. observers as generally free and fair. Legislative elections held in September 2008 did not meet expectations.

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government or its agents did not commit politically motivated killings; however, human rights activists and domestic media sources reported that security forces arbitrarily killed numerous persons during the year. Impunity remained a problem, although the government prosecuted some human rights violators. Results of investigations into security force abuses were seldom released. Police reportedly viewed extrajudicial killings as an alternative to relying on the country's ineffective judicial system.

Domestic media and local human rights activists reported that police use of excessive force resulted in killings.

On December 17, police shot and killed two actors as they filmed a movie in a high-crime area of Luanda. Police reportedly mistook the actors for armed robbers, fired without warning until stopped by the frantic movie director, then left the scene without rendering medical aid. An investigation was pending at year's end.

On December 18, police shot and killed two vendors in an open-air market during a raid of pirated DVD vendors. The minister of interior and national police commander immediately suspended the officers in question and promised a swift investigation. The government was still considering civil criminal charges against the accused police officers at year's end.

In February local human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Maos Livres reported that a man arrested in Luanda for stealing three cases of cod died in police custody. Maos Livres claimed the man was severely beaten and denied medical care; police said the officers were acting in self defense. During the year there were media reports in Luanda that police deliberately targeted and killed persons suspected of gang and other criminal activity; the National Police neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

There were no further developments into the following 2006 incidents of alleged unlawful killings by security forces: the February killing of a youth in Luanda suspected of gang activity and May death of a pregnant woman after her arrest by police in Luanda Norte

The Memorandum of Understanding for Peace and Reconciliation for Cabinda Province, signed in August 2006, largely brought an end to the insurgency in the province, though international and domestic media sources reported sporadic attacks by dissident factions of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), and counter-insurgency operations by the Armed Forces of Angola (FAA) continued during the year. There was one report of an unlawful killing in Cabinda that could be linked to FAA soldiers. The incident remained under investigation. There were no updates during the year on the 2006 unlawful killing in Cabinda linked to FAA soldiers.

Reports of killings by private security companies in diamond concession areas continued, but declined significantly during the year, according to Partnership Canada Africa's Diamond Industry Annual Review. While local or Luanda-based authorities investigated some of the cases, no arrests were reported.

There were no further developments in the numerous alleged 2006 or 2005 unlawful killings by police.

There were reports of vigilante violence during the year. In November violent riots broke out in Huambo after a policeman shot and killed a taxi driver, reportedly for his refusing to pay a bribe. Angry witnesses attacked and severely beat the police officer. Later a group of taxi drivers and other citizens fired shots at a local police station. No charges were filed, although local residents reported that police arrested several taxi drivers in the weeks following the incident.

Landmines placed during the long civil war were a continuing threat. According to the May national Landmine Impact Survey, landmine and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) accidents increased during the year; 31 accidents killed 64 persons and injured 48 persons during the year, compared to 15 accidents which killed 11 and injured 22 persons in 2006. This increase was largely due to increased movement of persons around the country, especially returnees who were not familiar with existing mine risks in resettlement areas. The government continued to strengthen and expand national demining capacity during the year, and partnered extensively with international NGOs on demining operations and mine risk education.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. However, there were media reports that persons taken into police or military custody disappeared, as some prisoners could not be located or accounted for following the September prison riots in Luanda's Central Prison.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, government security forces tortured, beat, and otherwise abused persons. Reports of beatings and other abuses in police stations during interrogations were common. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (UNWGAD) reported a number of detainees with visible signs of torture. Police and other security forces were rarely held accountable. Although the government punished some violators administratively, no prosecutions occurred during the year.

Abuses by the army continued. There were NGO and media reports of violence by FAA troops in Cabinda and Lunda Norte. In Cabinda FAA troops illegally detained, beat, or threatened citizens suspected of FLEC collaboration during anti-insurgency operations, according to human rights NGOs. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted in 2006 that the attention paid by senior FAA officials to human rights issues had substantially improved since 2004; however, the FAA did not take action against officials who committed abuses during the year.

The government conducted multiple operations throughout the country to identify, detain, and expel illegal immigrants, particularly in the diamond-rich provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 50,000 illegal immigrants were expelled during the year. There were reports of violence and degrading treatment associated with some of these operations.

The NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that illegal Congolese immigrants detained in Lunda Norte were subjected to the systematic rape of women, beatings, forced labor, withholding of food and water, and repeated cavity searches without the use of gloves as they were moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border for expulsion. Several children reportedly died from malnourishment and dehydration. ALthough the women stated they were abused by "soldiers," it is unclear if the abusers were FAA, national or border police, or other armed and uniformed private security forces. The UN Children's fund (UNICEF) also reported allegations of excessive use of force by government security forces during expulsions, including the burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, extortion, and forced labor. Three Congolese workers reportedly died while in custody. The FAA pledged to investigate these allegations; the investigation was pending at year's end.

Reports of abuses by private security companies continued, especially in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul. According to reports from human rights activists, private security contractors hired by diamond companies to protect their concessions from illegal exploitation were reportedly responsible for most of the violence. For example, private security forces allegedly allowed a security dog to attack a man, who suffered severe stomach and pelvic injuries as a result. The government provided financial assistance for the victim's medical treatment, but no charges were filed.

Police and immigration officials at border checkpoints and provincial airports reportedly extorted money from travelers and harassed returnees and refugees.

There were no developments in 2006 and 2005 cases of police torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by security forces.

Landmine and ERW-related deaths increased during the year as returnees and infrastructure improvements served to increase the movement of persons and goods in rural, war-affected areas.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Human rights activists reported that prison officials routinely beat and tortured detainees. In a September visit, UNWGAD interviewed prisoners who showed visible signs of torture, starvation, and abuse. The national prison system continued to hold more than five times the number of prisoners for which it was designed. The Central Prison, located on the outskirts of Luanda, was built to house 600 prisoners, but before violent riots in October the prison population held 3,300 prisoners. At year's end the prison still held more than 1,000 prisoners. In some provinces warehouses and other industrial buildings were used as prison facilities.

Many prisons did not supply prisoners with basic sanitary facilities, adequate food, or health care. Prisoners depended on families or other outside assistance for basic support. Chronically underpaid prison officials reportedly supported themselves by stealing from prisoners and extorting money from family members. Prison guards reportedly continued to demand that prisoners pay for weekend passes to which they were entitled. There were reports of prison officials operating an informal bail system, releasing prisoners until their trial dates for a fee.

Female inmates informed the UNWGAD that they were regularly raped by prison guards.

Violent prison riots in October occurred in two of the prisons visited by the UNWGAD and resulted in prisoner deaths. The three-day riot in Luanda's overcrowded Central Prison was reportedly sparked by an argument between a guard and an inmate, although human rights activists blamed the riots on prison conditions. Government spokesmen stated that two persons were killed during the rioting, but nongovernment media sources reported a higher number of deaths. Some families of inmates stated that their family members were detained in the prison, but not listed on inmate lists released after the riots. The government asserted that lists were complete and offered no assistance in locating missing persons. The government also transferred some detainees to the Viana Prison or to prisons in other provinces after the riots to ease overcrowding.

There were reports that prisoners died of disease, especially in provincial prisons. Many serious illnesses were improperly diagnosed, delaying proper treatment. Prison conditions varied widely between provinces and municipalities.

Juveniles, often incarcerated for petty theft, were regularly housed with adults and subject to abuse by guards and inmates in provincial prisons, but were increasingly separated from the main population in larger urban prisons. Juvenile detention centers were present in Luanda but were severely overcrowded.

Pretrial detainees were frequently housed with sentenced inmates, and short-term detainees were often held with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons.

The government permitted foreign diplomatic personnel and local and international human rights observers to visit prisons during the year. The UNWGAD noted the government's support of and cooperation with its visit, but stated they were denied access to two of the prisons they asked to visit, including a military prison in Cabinda. The ICRC was also denied access to some prisons during the year. The human rights ombudsman and Parliamentary Human Rights Commission made several independent prison visits during the year. The Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (AJPD), a local human rights NGO, was allowed to visit prisons during the year, but was denied access immediately following October's prison riots.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces--particularly the National Police--often did not respect these prohibitions in practice. There were unconfirmed, anecdotal reports that national police held family members of wanted individuals.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The National Police, under the Interior Ministry, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The Internal Intelligence Service reports to the Office of the Presidency and investigates sensitive state security matters. The FAA is responsible for external security but also has domestic responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of illegal immigrants, presidential security, and small-scale actions against the dissident FLEC faction in Cabinda.

Other than personnel assigned to elite units, police were poorly paid, and the practice of supplementing income through extortion of civilians was widespread. Corruption and impunity remained serious problems. Most complaints were handled within the National Police by internal disciplinary procedures, which sometimes led to formal punishment, including dismissal. However, the government did not have a mechanism to investigate transparently and punish alleged offenders, and in most cases failed to provide any additional information on investigations or legal proceedings.

There were no updates on the 2006 reports that a government investigation had targeted senior National Police officials for racketeering.

During the year various government ministries, AJPD, the UN Human Rights Office (UNHRO), and other local and international NGOs expanded programs to provide human rights and professional training to the police and the military. The Joint Training Team, made up of the Central Police Command, NGO representatives, and the UNHRO, also worked to expand police training on human rights from provincial capitals to municipalities. The Prosecutor's Office expanded collaboration with the UNHRO to train human rights monitors at the provincial and municipal level. Police participated in professional training with foreign law enforcement officials from several countries in the region.

Arrest and Detention

The law requires a judge or magistrate to issue a warrant prior to an arrest, although a person caught committing a crime may be immediately arrested without a warrant, but security forces did not always procure arrest warrants before detaining persons. Arrest warrants may be signed by the judicial police and confirmed within five days by a magistrate. The constitution provides for the right to prompt judicial determination of the detention's legality, but authorities did not always respect this right in practice. In many cases detainees were never brought before a judge or prosecutor. A person generally may not be held for more than 135 days without trial; however, he may be detained for up to 180 days if caught committing a crime punishable by a prison sentence. In practice these limits were regularly exceeded. There was a functioning but ineffective bail system that was widely used for minor crimes. The law permits detainees access to legal counsel and states that indigent detainees should be provided a lawyer by the state; however, these rights often were not respected. The law also allows family members prompt access to detainees; however, this was also sometimes ignored or made conditional upon payment of a bribe.

Security officials arbitrary arrested NGO employees and members of the opposition (see section 4).

For example, on August 9, security forces arrested three members of the Front for Democracy Party in Cabinda on charges of enticing public disobedience for distributing party literature a day prior to a presidential visit to the province. Two of the members were released for lack of evidence, and the third was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, which was later reduced to two years' probation.

On February 19, security forces arrested members of the Angolan Party for Democratic Support and Progress on charges of enticing public disobedience while distributing pamphlets critical of the government delivery of social services. On March 2, courts dismissed the case because the prosecutor did not find the distribution of pamphlets to be criminal.

Unlawful arrest and detention continued to be a serious problem. Police did not obtain warrants before conducting searches for illegal vendors and making sweeps of public markets. Human rights organizations, such as AJPD, continued efforts to secure the release of illegally detained persons. During the year citizens reported to AJPD more than 700 cases of illegal detention. In mining regions, such as Lunda North and South, MSF, UNICEF, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that expelled illegal immigrants and their families were unlawfully detained by government security forces in transit centers, where they were subjected to systematic rape, body cavity searches, and deprived of food and water.

Local residents reported that security forces detained persons in Cabinda suspected of FLEC activity or collaboration. Civilians reportedly were held incommunicado in a military prison in Cabinda, where UNWGAD and ICRC were denied permission to visit.

Excessively long pretrial detention also continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities led to prolonged pretrial detention. In November 2006 the Justice Ministry estimated that approximately 60 percent of Luanda's prison population consisted of pretrial detainees, the number of which increased during the year due to police-run crime and delinquency reductions campaigns. Police often beat and then released detainees rather than prepare a formal court case. In some cases, inmates were held in the prison system for up to two years before their trials began. Unlike in the previous year, the government did not release detainees who had been held beyond the legal time limit, claiming the 2006 release of approximately 2,000 pretrial detainees resulted in an increase in crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary was inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. Judicial corruption and inefficiency, especially at the administrative level, remained a problem; the Justice Ministry worked to counter this through the continued implementation of a court case filing system and random assignment of judges. During the year the government continued to rebuild courts and train new magistrates and prosecutors, but the judiciary was still short approximately 350 judges, according to the Supreme Court president. The Justice Ministry also continued efforts to update case management systems, train law clerks, increase the number of municipal courts, and develop a mediation system for civil complaints.

The court system consists of the Supreme Court as well as municipal and provincial courts of first instance under the authority of the Supreme Court. Trials for political and security crimes are handled exclusively by the Supreme Court, which serves as the appellate court for questions of law and fact. The Supreme Court also provides judicial review of constitutional issues. The president has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices without confirmation by the parliament.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court level. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases that resulted in major delays in hearings.

Due to the lack of judicial infrastructure and the continuing authority of traditional leaders, informal or traditional courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved conflicts in many rural areas. As most municipalities did not have prosecutors or judges, local police often served as investigator, prosecutor, and judge. Traditional leaders (sobas) also heard and decided local cases. These informal systems did not provide citizens with the same rights to a fair trial as the formal legal system; instead, each community in which they were located established local rules

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