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The Oil Diagnostic in Angola: An Update
Human Rights Watch, March 2001
Government Attempts to Limit Public Criticism Over the Use of Oil Revenues
In practice, social spending is very low in Angola. The IMF estimated that social spending averaged only 11.6 percent of government expenditure from 1995-1999. Then, with the resumption of civil war at the end of 1998, defense expenditures reached a five-year high in 1999, while social spending fell further, to 9.4 percent, the lowest level since 1996 and second lowest since 1995.82 The World Bank noted starkly that "income inequality in Angola increased sharply over 1995 to 1998, with the richest 10 percent of the population enjoying a 44 percent increase in wealth while the poorest 10 percent suffered a 59 percent decrease."83 The country ranked 160th out of 174 countries in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 2000 Human Development Index (HDI).84 The IMF reported that nine million out of the country's thirteen million people, some 62 percent, live in "absolute poverty,"85 while UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) reported that Angola had the world's second highest child mortality rate in 2000.86 Approximately 4 million people (30 percent of the population) have been internally displaced as a result of the continuing conflict, according the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 2.7 million of them, 21 percent of the population, since 1998.87
Although the government has committed itself to improving human rights, it remains particularly hostile to public inquiry or criticism over its use of oil revenues, as reflected in its tightening of restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and a series of actions taken against local journalists.
Gustavo Costa, of the Portuguese-language newspaper Expresso, for example, was charged with defamation and libel for writing about cabinet corruption in April 1999. On December 24, 1999, Costa received a suspended prison sentence, was fined U.S. $508, and ordered to pay U.S. $2,000 compensation for "defaming the Chief of the Civil Office of the President, Jose Leitão." Costa's trial was closed to the public and the media, and he complained that he was pressured to reveal his sources. His lawyer lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court, but it has yet to be heard.88 The case was effectively dropped on November 29, 2000, when the parliament passed an amnesty law that pardoned Costa and other journalists of charges previously filed against them.
The government introduced a draft new press law in late July 2000 that would have severely restricted freedom of expression. It appeared intended to curtail increasing domestic press questioning of the government following the publication of a report by Global Witness that exposed links between oil and high level government corruption allegedly involving President Dos Santos and his associates, and critical reporting by local journalists such as Rafael Marques. It prescribed sentences of two to eight years of imprisonment for any journalist who impugned the president's honor or reputation; empowered the authorities to determine who could work as a journalist, and to seize or ban publications, including foreign publications, at their discretion; and allowed the arrest and detention of journalists for thirty days before any charges were filed. The draft law also removed truth as a defense against libel against the president or the office of the president, which would have allowed the authorities to imprison even journalists who wrote accurate reports if these could be deemed to impugn the president's honor or reputation.89 In the face of widespread domestic and international criticism, the government ultimately withdrew the draft law in October 2000 and said it would establish a committee comprised of government and nongovernmental representatives to revise the law.90 At this writing, the government had not formed the committee.
The government also took action against opposition political parties who criticized its policies and performance. On January 24, 2001, police beat and arrested eight members of the Party for Democracy and Progress in Angola (PADPA) after they staged a peaceful hunger strike outside the Luanda residence of President dos Santos, calling for him to resign on grounds of economic mismanagement and corruption. The protestors also called for disclosure of the details of the French arms-for-oil scandal, and criticized the government's discontinuation of peace negotiations with UNITA. Following this incident, Rádio Nacional de Angola broadcast an official statement warning people not to demonstrate against the government. Two of the eight demonstrators were released shortly after their arrest but the six others were charged with holding an "illegal protest." The charges were dismissed by the court, however, when the six appeared in court on January 29, 2001.91
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