The Angolan government must stop its military forces from conducting brutal body searches, beatings and rapes of Congolese migrant workers in northern Angola, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since early April, tens of thousands of migrant workers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been subjected to brutal physical abuse as part of an operation conducted by Angolan soldiers to expel them from the diamond-rich border province of Lunda Norte. Angolan authorities claim that they are repatriating Congolese and other workers who have been illegally mining diamonds in northern Angola.

Congolese migrants returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) describe the abuses and public humiliation they have endured in Angolan towns such as Luremo and Cafunfo where Angolan soldiers searching for diamonds have forced them to undergo public strip searches. The widespread searches include degrading vaginal and anal searches, beatings and the looting of their goods. Some of those refusing searches have been raped or arbitrarily detained.

“The Angolan government must immediately stop its soldiers from carrying out brutal abuses against Congolese migrant workers,” said Peter Takirumbudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “If these workers are illegal migrants, the authorities need to follow proper legal procedures that respect the rights and dignity of the individual.”

Humanitarian organizations have expressed particular concern about the health risks linked to the manner in which the body searches have been carried out. Those conducting the searches appear to be using one plastic bag or glove for multiple inspections rarely dipping it in disinfectant. Such procedures could increase the risk of transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

In the past three weeks, at least 20,000 Congolese migrant workers have been forcefully expelled from Angola. This is in addition to earlier expulsion that started in December last year. The United Nations estimates that some 80,000 to 100,000 Congolese civilians have been or are in the process of being expelled from Angola to the DRC.