His Excellency João Lourenço
President of the Republic of Angola
Re: A Human Rights Agenda for the Angolan Authorities
We at Human Rights Watch, an independent organization that monitors and reports on human rights in more than 90 countries, write to you to express our concerns about the human rights situation in Angola and to request that your government act to improve human rights during your presidency.
We urge you to take decisive measures to honor the country’s human rights obligations and ensure the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms for the benefit of all Angolans. We believe that this is an important opportunity for your government to help nurture and develop a culture of respect for human rights in Angola.
Angola’s constitution, signed into law in January 2010, enshrines the country’s domestic human rights obligations. The preamble to the constitution recognizes “the need to entrench democracy, good, transparent and accountable governance and the rule of law,” and reaffirms the “commitment to upholding and defending fundamental human rights and freedoms for all citizens.” Angola’s international human rights obligations are derived from the international human rights conventions to which the country is party including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as customary international law.
Human Rights Watch calls on your administration to place the promotion and protection of human rights at the top of its agenda and recommends the following four priority areas for the government’s human rights agenda:
1. Ensure accountability for past human rights abuses
The government should ensure accountability for the perpetrators of serious human rights violations, including by investigating past cases of abuses and appropriately prosecuting those responsible, and providing adequate redress for victims of abuses. Security force personnel implicated in the use of excessive force against demonstrators should be disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate.
For example, in April 2016, police gunfire wounded at least three people during a student demonstration against an increase in school fees in Caluquembe, Huila province. 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 him, or others.
On August 2016, soldiers fired live ammunition during a peaceful protest against forced evictions in Luanda, killing a teenage boy. The government announced an investigation into the case but has so far not published any findings on the case.
Your Excellency, we urge your government to urgently, establish an independent commission to investigate the events of April 2015, when a police operation against a religious sect left at least 22 people dead in Huambo. To date, no security force members have been arrested or prosecuted for the killing of the sect members.
2. Protect Freedom of the Media
Human Rights Watch urges the government of Angola to promote and protect media freedoms by revising repressive laws and abolishing vague defamation clauses and draconian penalties. We note with concern that on January 23, 2017 the former Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos signed a Press law that limits the right to freedom of expression. Several the Press law’s articles violate Angola’s international obligations to respect media freedom. These include:
- Article 29 gives the Ministry of Social Communication the authority to oversee how media organizations carry out editorial guidelines and to punish violators with suspension of activities or fines;
- Article 82 criminalizes publication of a text or image that is “offensive to individuals.” Under the penal code, defamation and slander are punishable with fines and imprisonment for up to six months.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights calls for the abolition of criminal defamation laws in the continent, saying that they open the way to abuse and can result in very harsh consequences for journalists who expose abuses of power, corruption, and human rights violations, all of which are rife in Angola.
3. Uphold Housing Rights
Human Rights Watch urges the government to end forced evictions, which has been a persistent problem in urban areas over the years. In Luanda in July 2016, for example, a special force tasked with protecting government infrastructure and land forcibly evicted over 1,000 people in Zango area on the outskirts of the city, destroying their homes and property. After growing complaints of abuses by soldiers against Zango residents, authorities ordered the operation to be stopped in late September. However, the forcibly evicted residents have yet to be relocated and compensated. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressed concern at the repeated use of forced evictions in various cities of Angola, including from informal settlements and during development projects, without the necessary procedural guarantees or the provision of alternative housing or adequate compensation to the affected people.
4. Respect rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association
The Angolan government has frequently violated the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association and has regularly used criminal defamation laws and other abusive laws to silence activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and peaceful protesters. Article 47 of Angola’s Constitution allows citizens to protest without pre-authorization, provided they inform authorities in advance. However, authorities consistently blocked peaceful anti-government protests with intimidation and detention.
For example, on February 2017, police used dogs to stop a protest in Luanda of about 15 people who were calling for the resignation of the territorial administration minister. In April 2017, police tried to stop a peaceful protest of people with disabilities who gathered to protest inaccessible infrastructure and inequality. The police promised to investigate the incident, but have not published the results of the investigations. Ahead of the August 2017 election, the Ministry of the Interior banned all protests by groups not contesting in the election, claiming that street protests planned by activists posed a security risk.
The government of Angola has obligations under African and international human rights treaties that require it to respect the rights to life, bodily integrity, and liberty and security of the person, as well as freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. Human Rights Watch urges you to publicly express your personal commitments to these legal obligations, press for measures that would see to their implementation, and to instruct your officials to conduct themselves accordingly.
We look forward to a constructive dialogue with your government and to the prospect of the advancement of human rights in Angola.
Executive Director- Africa Division