The Angolan army arbitrarily detained and tortured civilians with impunity in Cabinda, and continue to restrict their freedom of movement despite an apparent end to the decades-long separatist conflict in the oil-rich enclave.
In the past year, the Angolan army has subjected civilians to extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other mistreatment, as well as sexual violence. The Angolan army also denies civilians their freedom of movement. Human Rights Watch found little evidence of recent abuses committed by rebel factions against civilians, probably because of the rebels’ weakened capacity.
Since late-2002, some 30,000 Angolan troops have been deployed in Cabinda, a discontiguous province that produces around 60 percent of the country’s oil revenue. By mid-2003, the army had virtually destroyed the separatist movement, Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave (Frente de Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda, or FLEC), which has been fighting for independence since 1963. Notwithstanding FLEC’s virtual military defeat, the large number of Angolan army soldiers remains deployed in the enclave.
“While the conflict has died down, the Angolan army continues to commit crimes against civilians in Cabinda,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. “The Angolan government must put an end to impunity and bring the abusers to justice.”
In August, Human Rights Watch interviewed civilians who had been arbitrarily detained and tortured by the Angolan army on suspicion of being rebel supporters or combatants. Some were detained for extended periods or detained more than once. Detainees told Human Rights Watch of being held in pits in the ground that would partially fill with water when it rained. Detainees were frequently subjected to beatings; in one case Angolan army soldiers threatened to rape a male detainee and cut off his genitalia.
Human Rights Watch called on the Angolan army to hold persons apprehended only in officially recognized places of detention, to immediately release any persons unlawfully detained by the military and to transfer persons held for criminal offenses to civilian authority.
Angolan army soldiers based near villages were implicated in rape and other sexual violence. One woman described being abducted by Angolan troops in the past year and repeatedly raped by numerous soldiers over a six-week period. Human Rights Watch documented several cases of girls, one as young as 14, who had married Angolan soldiers, most likely after having been raped by them. Soldiers also detained women who are accused of being married to FLEC rebels.
“Fighting or no fighting, women and girls in Cabinda remain vulnerable to sexual violence by the Angolan army,” Takirambudde said. “Luanda cannot allow its soldiers to commit rape and other sexual violence with impunity.”
The Angolan army continues to deny freedom of movement to civilians in the rural areas. As a result, civilians have been unable to cultivate their crops or access their hunting grounds and rivers. As one displaced woman told Human Rights Watch: “The Angolan army does not allow women to go and cultivate our fields so how can we mothers provide food for our children? My wish is for peace so we can return to our village and fields.”
Both the Angolan army and the National Police have generally failed to investigate or prosecute abuses against civilians in which the Angolan army has been implicated. In some instances, the Angolan army has responded merely by transferring the alleged perpetrators, including officers and the perpetrators' unit, elsewhere in Cabinda or to another province.