(Johannesburg) – Angolan authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy during a peaceful protest in Luanda on August 6, 2016. The government’s deployment of military police during a demonstration against the demolition of homes for a development project raises serious concerns about the security forces’ unnecessary use of lethal force.
“Angolan soldiers fired live ammunition during a peaceful protest and the unsurprising result is the death of a teenage boy,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to promptly investigate why the soldiers opened fire, prosecute those responsible for any wrongdoing, and take steps to avoid such bloodshed in the future.”
By about 3 p.m. on August 6, military police had arrived to help demolish homes for a commercial project in the Walale, Zango II neighborhood of the capital, Luanda, according to two witnesses and media reports. The soldiers were met by a group of residents peacefully demonstrating against the demolitions. Without warning, the witnesses said, the soldiers fired live ammunition in the air and at protesters’ feet to disperse the crowd.
“I think they [the military police] got irritated by the number of people who were waiting for them,” said one of the protesters, Dinho, whose surname is not being used for his security. “They loaded the guns and started firing at our feet. We ran away.”
One bullet fatally struck 14-year-old Rufino Antonio in his neck. No other demonstrators were reported injured by gunfire.
“One of the soldiers was listening to us as we begged them not to demolish the houses,” said Lucas, another protester. “Then, this other soldier just pointed his gun at me. The boy was right behind me and I told him to run. We ran to hide behind a mango tree. That shot was directed at me. It missed me, it missed the mango tree, and unfortunately struck the boy.”
Rufino’s uncle, Rui Domingos, told Human Rights Watch that his nephew was playing with other children when the military police arrived, and that Rufino went to join the demonstration. Domingos said that neighbors who witnessed the shooting called him and Rufino’s parents to the scene at about 5 p.m. When they arrived, Rufino was already dead.
“The neighbors told us that a military officer had shot him.” Domingos said. “We immediately called the soba (local chief) and police.”
Domingos said that minutes after the local police came, army officials arrived, threatening the police commander and removing Rufino’s body without explanation. The family located the boy’s body in the morgue of Maria Pia Hospital the following day.
A graphic video taken just after the shooting and posted on social media by Angolan activists shows Rufino lying on the ground under a mango tree with blood flowing behind his head or neck. A crowd is gathered around, and a man says, “Get their mother, get their mother.” Shortly thereafter a shot is heard but no security forces are visible.
The protest was organized by local residents against the planned demolition of about 625 houses in the neighborhood for a commercial, industrial, and agriculture development project by the Luanda-Bengo Special Economic Zone.
An activist from OMUNGA, an organization that monitors forced evictions in Angola, told Human Rights Watch that the demolitions began on July 31, and were met by repeated protests, none of which involved violence. The law enforcement operation was being conducted by a military unit of the Posto Comando Unificado (PCU), a new force consisting of construction inspectors, army soldiers, and the police, tasked with protecting government infrastructure and land.
A lieutenant-general leading the PCU operations, Simão Carlitos Wala, told Voice of America that the incident was under investigation, but he declined to provide details.
“The Angolan authorities should be using police, not soldiers, for law enforcement during demonstrations,” Bekele said. “Soldiers, including military police, are trained to use their guns first.”
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that nonviolent means should be used as far as possible before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.
Angolan law permits security forces to use lethal force only as a last resort to counter a threat to life or serious injury. However, Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented many cases in which security forces have unjustifiably killed or injured protesters.
In April, police gunfire wounded at least three people during a student demonstration against an increase in school fees in Caluquembe, Huila province. The police initially denied firing live ammunition but later admitted that one officer had opened fire and said he would be punished. It is not known what steps were taken to punish this officer or others for their role in the incident.
“Angolan authorities should demonstrate that they are serious about curtailing excessive use of force by fully investigating the death of Rufino Antonio and bringing those responsible to justice,” Bekele said. “The government should ensure that its security forces abide by international standards and respond nonviolently to peaceful protests.”