The United Nations and the government of Angola are failing to protect the rights of millions of people displaced by the country’s civil war, Human Rights Watch charged today.
In a rare oral briefing to the members of the U.N. Security Council by a non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch today urged that the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) play an enhanced role in taking responsibility for more than four million displaced persons inside Angola, an extension of the agency's traditional responsibility only for refugees who have crossed an international border.
The Angolan government has also failed to make public any significant data concerning its oil revenues, which totaled U.S.$3.18 billion in 2001. Human Rights Watch said that disclosing such data would have a positive effect on governance and could lay the foundations for improvement in human rights, and it urged the Security Council to press the Angolan government for such disclosure.
The death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi may create new opportunities for making peace in Angola, Human Rights Watch said. “Savimbi’s death has drawn new attention to the millions of victims of the civil war in Angola,” said Arvind Ganesan, Director of the Business and Human Rights program at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council should not let this moment pass.”
Human rights abuse and violence against civilians in Angola have been increasing since the fighting resumed in 1998, Human Rights Watch said. Angola is the second largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2001, more than 90 percent of the government’s budget came from oil revenue. Yet the country ranks 146 out of 162 countries in the United Nations Development Program’s latest Human Development Index. Humanitarian aid only reaches approximately 10 to 15 percent of the country, around the major provincial towns.
More than four million people, or 31 percent of the total population, are internally displaced in Angola. Both the government and UNITA have forced people from their homes in order to depopulate areas, or to punish locals for their perceived support of the adversary.
Two obstacles to protecting these internally displaced people (IDPs) in Angola are the failure of the United Nations to monitor individual cases of abuses, and its apparent unwillingness to confront the Angolan government directly on the issue of IDPs, Human Rights Watch said.
In areas held by UNITA, humanitarian access is virtually nonexistent. UNITA also continues to lay landmines to prevent residents of areas under their control from fleeing to government-controlled areas. It has also used anti-vehicle mines to disrupt transportation.
There have been some improvements in the human rights situation in Angola in recent months, Human Rights Watch said. In areas under firm government control such as Luanda and along the coast, there is more tolerance of discussions about human rights and public affairs. However, this has not included greater tolerance of organized political activities or detailed discussion on how the government manages its oil and diamond revenues.
The opacity of the Angolan government’s budget and expenditures has generated widespread concern, including among the multilateral financial institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) tried to address this problem by entering into a program of economic reform with the government in April 2000. This program included a provision to monitor oil revenues, known as the “Oil Diagnostic,” which could have promoted transparency and accountability and ultimately a greater respect for human rights. However, the government has failed to implement the program effectively.
“Public accounting for oil revenues is something that is firmly within the government’s control, even in the absence of peace,” said Ganesan.
Human Rights Watch is testifying before the Security Council in an Arria Formula briefing. An Arria Formula meeting is a meeting of the members of the Council rather than a meeting of the Security Council per se. It allows Council members to hear the views of representatives of non-Council members, representatives of non-state parties and NGOs in an informal and confidential setting. It is held outside of council chambers and is restricted to members of the Council and representatives of parties whose views the Council seeks. No official records of the meetings will be taken and the meeting is not announced.