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President João Lourenço of Angola during the 10th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 26, 2018.  © 2018 Vladimir Astapkovich / Sputnik via A

(Johannesburg) – Angolan President João Lourenço should mark his first year in office by directing his government to investigate past rights abuses by state security forces, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Lourenço administration’s first 12 months have resulted in significant reforms and visible actions against corruptionSeveral former government and ruling party officials, including relatives of former president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, are either under investigation or in detention for alleged corruption. But the president has remained silent over the role of the military and police in past grave abuses, including the Huambo massacre of 2015 and alleged extrajudicial killings.

“President Lourenço should ensure justice for the victims of past abuses by Angola’s security forces,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Those responsible for serious human rights violations should not escape justice. 

For many years, the Angolan security forces have used unnecessary or excessive force without facing punishment as the government failed to investigate and appropriately prosecute officers who committed serious human rights violations. In one of the most serious incidents, authorities refused requests from the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to establish an independent commission to investigate an alleged massacre of religious sect members in Huambo province.

On April 16, 2015, clashes erupted when the Huambo police sought to detain the sect leader, Julino Kalupeteka, for questioning over allegations that he had encouraged civil disobedience by his followers. Kalupeteka led a breakaway faction of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and believed the world would end in 2015. He had encouraged his followers to abandon their lives and retreat to a secluded camp.

Angolan authorities have said that Kalupeteka’s bodyguards attacked the police officers with firearms and machetes when they went to arrest him, and, in response, officers killed 13 of the bodyguards. But opposition groups and activists have said that after the initial clash – which resulted in the death of police officers – police and army soldiers went in to take “revenge” for the deaths and killed hundreds of unarmed sect followers, including some of his bodyguards. In April 2016, Kalupeteka and nine of his followers were convicted and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison for the killing of the officers. However, no security force members have been arrested or prosecuted for killing the sect members.

The Angolan police have also been implicated in many cases of extrajudicial killings across the country. In June, footage appearedto show an agent of the Angola Criminal Investigation Service pointing an assault rifle at a man lying on the street unable to get up. Minutes later, another agent with a handgun arrives at the scene and fires several shots at the prone man. The Interior Ministry condemned the actions of the agents as “ignoble” and pledged to take disciplinary actions against them, without providing further details.

Rafael Marques, an investigative journalist and human rights activist, has documented dozens of alleged extrajudicial executionsby Angolan security forces. A February report, published on the site Maka Angola, describes 50 cases of killings of young men suspected of gang activities or petty crimes that are attributed to “death squads” linked to the Criminal Investigation Service. The authorities promised to investigate the cases, but the results of the investigation, if any, have not been made public.

Under international law, Angola has a duty to impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute serious violations of human rights. Governments not only have a duty to protect their citizens from such violations, but also to investigate violations when they occur and to bring those responsible to justice.

“The Angolan authorities should not sweep past human right abuses under the carpet in the name of political and security stability,” Mavhinga said. “President Lourenço should send a clear message that he is committed to improving the country’s human rights record and will not tolerate any abuses by the security forces.”

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