The United Nations made fatal errors in its mission to Angola, where civilians now face starvation and massive human rights abuse as a result of the resurgent war, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 205-page report, "Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process," is the result of a five-year study of the Angolan peace process since the Lusaka Accords in November 1994. Its publication coincides with a growing humanitarian crisis and a new United Nations mission starting up in Angola.
"The U.N.'s involvement in Angola has basically been a disaster," said Peter Takirambudde, the executive director for Africa at Human Rights Watch. "During the Lusaka peace process the U.N. spent $1.5 billion, most of it down the drain." The problem, said Takirambudde, was that the U.N. turned a blind eye toward breaches of the peace accords, which eroded confidence in the peace process and created a vicious cycle of steadily worsening rights abuses.
"This policy of ‘See No Evil, Speak No Evil' completely backfired in Angola," said Takirambudde. "Unless the U.N. learns from this fatal mistake, its new mission in Angola will also be at risk—and so will similar missions in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone."
In September, the Security Council is likely to authorize a new thirty-person U.N. mission. Human Rights Watch warned that the mission's Human Rights Division should be given a clear-cut mandate which includes investigative work and the dissemination of its findings.
Human Rights Watch called on the Angolan government and UNITA rebels to permit neutral humanitarian corridors for relief aid to reach civilians in the interior. The group also called for strengthening international sanctions against UNITA, and said the Angolan government should crackdown on diamond and fuel smuggling by UNITA officials. UNITA's export of diamonds in the last five years has netted the rebels some U.S.$1.72 billion, much of which was spent on weaponry..The conflict in Angola has displaced nearly one million people, ten percent of the country's population.
UNITA rebels returned to war in 1998, laying siege to a number of cities and towns, most notable Malanje and Kuito. The shelling of Malanje started in January 1999 and has continued ever since—resulting in at least 600 civilians killed. UNITA's siege of Malanje has caused a growing threat of starvation among the civilian population, and humanitarian relief flights to the city have been suspended from time to time.
Mine warfare has intensified since hostilities resumed, with fresh laying of antipersonnel landmines by the government around besieged cities in mine belts and along roads to obstruct UNITA access. The Angolan government signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and has clearly failed to live up to its basic provisions.
The report documents how human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war were fueled by new flows of weapons into the country—despite the U.N. arms embargo on UNITA, which has been in place since 1993. UNITA purchased large amounts of weaponry from foreign sources. Human Rights Watch believes that some of these weapons originated from private sources in Albania and Bulgaria. UNITA was effective in"sanctions-busting" through neighboring countries, especially South Africa, Congo-Brazzaville, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and also Togo and Burkina Faso.
In October 1997, the U.N. imposed an additional package of restrictions on UNITA, blocking foreign travel by their officials and closing their offices abroad. Surprisingly, only in July 1998 did the U.N. target the direct and indirect export of diamonds from UNITA areas and freeze UNITA bank accounts, although these were the prime sources of revenue for UNITA's purchases of fuel and weapons.
While UNITA bought arms with diamonds, the Angolan government paid for its arms purchases through bank loans, oil profit remittances, and mining and other concessions. Some of the U.S.$870 million of funds generated from signature bonus payments on three oil exploration concession blocks were used to pay for weapons purchases. The multinational oil companies BP-Amoco, Exxon, and Elf play a dominant role in these blocks.
The Human Rights Watch report concludes that the U.N. should have deployed its peacekeepers promptly and empowered them to undertake pro-active monitoring and reporting of cease-fire and embargo violations, and gross human rights abuses. The U.N. should also have placed an initial arms embargo on both sides, and an embargo on UNITA's use of diamonds once it became evident that the rebels were using this resource to rearm.
The report also states that Angola's leaders must be held accountable for actions that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.