Background Briefing

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The armed conflict in Angola’s Cabinda province, an oil-rich enclave separated from the rest of the country by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one of the world’s longest but least reported armed conflicts. For more than forty years, Cabindans have been subjected to persistent guerilla warfare, as factions of the separatist movement, Frente de LibertaçÃo do Enclave de Cabinda (FLEC - Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave) first fought for independence from Portugal. Since Angolan independence in 1975, FLEC has been fighting against the Angolan government led by the Movimento Popular de LibertaçÃo de Angola (MPLA - People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola). In late 2002, the armed conflict escalated following the deployment of some 30,000 government soldiers to Cabinda. By mid-2003, the Forças Armadas Angolanas (FAA - Angolan Armed Forces) had virtually destroyed the rebel group but in the course of these military operations committed serious and widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against the civilian population.

During a mission to Cabinda in August 2004, Human Rights Watch found that although the human rights situation in Cabinda had improved since mid-2003 due to a decrease in military operations, the FAA continued to commit violations against civilians with almost complete impunity.  Human Rights Watch documented violations of human rights abuses against civilians in the past year, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other mistreatment, sexual violence, and the denial of civilians’ freedom of movement. Human Rights Watch found little evidence of recent abuses committed by FLEC factions against civilians, probably because of FLEC’s weakened capacity.

Both the FAA and the Angolan National Police (Polícia National - PN) in Cabinda have generally failed to investigate or prosecute abuses against civilians in which the FAA has been implicated. In some instances, the FAA has responded merely by transferring the alleged perpetrators, including officers and the perpetrators’ unit, elsewhere in Cabinda or to another province. The civilian authority arrested three soldiers who allegedly killed a civilian in July 2004, but it remains to be seen whether they will be prosecuted and whether the trials will be conducted in accordance with international fair trial standards. The deployment of some 30,000 FAA troops in close proximity to the civilian population in Cabinda and the prevailing sense of impunity have fostered a climate in which human rights violations, from murder to early forced marriages, remain common.

Human Rights Watch interviewed victims and eyewitnesses, government officials and members of civil society in Cabinda as well as representatives of donor countries, the United Nations (U.N.) and humanitarian aid agencies in Luanda. The precise location of the incidents and other identifying details has been withheld to protect the victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

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