Angolan president João Lourenço was re-elected for a second term following highly contested general elections held on August 24, 2022. Human Rights Watch urges the Angolan president and government to place human rights at the center of their policy considerations and to ground all their policies both domestically and abroad on respect for human rights and the rule of law.
With Angola serving as the chair of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the country’s administration should also demonstrate leadership across the region to safeguard human rights and promote justice.
The following are suggested key priorities for the new administration to promote and protect human rights:
1. Investigate Security Force Rights Abuses
Angola’s state security forces have repeatedly been implicated in serious human rights violations, including summary executions, excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, and arbitrary detentions. During the Covid-19 crisis, security forces engaged in abusive behavior while seeking to enforce lockdown rules and movement restrictions. Despite recommendations by human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, the Angolan government did not consider alternatives to jail time nor did it avoid detaining people for nonviolent or minor offenses, such as violations of the state of emergency law.
Since taking office in 2017, João Lourenço’s government has failed to investigate and appropriately prosecute officers who committed serious human rights violations. He has also not distanced himself from a controversial decision by his long-serving predecessor, José Eduardo Dos Santos, to refuse 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 the rare occasions when government officials admitted responsibility and pledged to investigate violations, they failed to provide any public details of the status of such investigations.
Under international law, Angola has a duty to impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute serious violations of human rights. Governments have duties both to prevent such violations and to investigate violations when they occur and bring those responsible to justice.
• Introduce concrete and meaningful reforms for the conduct and oversight of police to promote full respect for human rights and the rule of law.
• Introduce measures to prevent, investigate, and appropriately prosecute extrajudicial executions and other serious violations by the police.
• Investigate promptly all allegations of excessive use of force and other human rights violations by the police, military, and other state officials, and hold all those responsible to account in public and fair trials.
• Inform the public of the results of investigations into violations, and promptly reply to individual complaints about police abuses.
2. Revoke Criminal Defamation Laws
For many years, the Angolan government has retained and defended the use of repressive laws including vague defamation clauses that threaten the work of the media and violate the country’s international obligations to respect media freedom.
In January 2017, then-President Dos Santos signed a press law that criminalizes in article 82, the publication of a text or image that is “offensive to individuals.” Angola’s penal code, approved in January 2019 by President Lourenço, also penalizes defamation and slander with fines and imprisonment of up to 18 months. Angolan political figures, including government officials, have used these laws to crack down on critics and journalists. Despite criticism from human rights groups, in 2022 a draft amendment to the press law that retained the defamation provision was approved in parliament.
In Resolution 169 of 2010, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called for the repeal of criminal defamation laws on the continent, noting 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.
• Revoke all existing criminal defamation laws. Civil defamation and criminal incitement laws are sufficient for protecting reputations and maintaining public order.
• Cease prosecutions of people under criminal defamation laws and drop criminal defamation cases against journalists, social media commentators, and others who express opinions in the media.
• Release unconditionally everyone currently imprisoned for criminal defamation.
• Ensure that civil defamation and criminal incitement laws are clearly and unambiguously written and used in ways that protect freedom of expression and prevent misuse by government officials.
3. Uphold Rights to Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly
Article 47 of Angola’s Constitution allows citizens to protest without authorization, provided that they inform the authorities in advance. However, for many years the Angolan government has repeatedly blocked and dispersed peaceful anti-government protests using unnecessary or excessive force and arbitrary arrests.
Under the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights' Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, “Participating in and organizing assemblies is a right and not a privilege, and thus its exercise does not require the authorization of the state.” The African Commission Guidelines further provide “that the presumption is always in favor of holding assemblies, and they shall not be automatically penalized, through dispersal or sanction, due to failure to notify. Lack of notification shall not be understood to make an assembly illegal.”
• Ensure that the authorities, including police and other law enforcement agencies, respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
• Ensure that peaceful separatist groups and pro-democracy and human rights activists can pursue their activities and criticize government policies without intimidation, harassment, or arbitrary arrest.
• Release anyone arrested because they participated in peaceful demonstrations and drop all politically motivated charges.
4. Protect Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing decades of conflicts in various countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Mauritania, and others have sought refuge in Angola. In October 2018, over 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers were forcibly returned or fled the country, during an Angolan police operation targeting illegal diamond mining in its Lunda Norte province. Many of the victims reported serious violations by Angolan security forces during the repatriation process, including killings, beatings, sexual assault, burning down homes, looting and destruction of property, illegal taxation, and arbitrary detention.
In 2022, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) resumed the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after a two-year pause because Covid-19 led to long-term border closures
• Ensure that no refugee or asylum seeker is forcibly returned to any country or destination where they could face persecution, serious harm, or other threats to their lives or freedom.
• Protect refugees and asylum seekers under Angola’s jurisdiction, including from abuse by police, military, or other state agents.
5. Promote Human Rights In The Region
Angola has played an essential role in mediation and peacebuilding across Central and Southern Africa and in the Great Lakes region. The country’s political and diplomatic efforts in the region have been widely recognized and encouraged. In 2022, the African Union chose Angola’s President João Lourenço to be the chairperson of the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), and to mediate talks between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, amid increasing tension between the two countries.
In his inaugural speech, president Lourenço reiterated his government’s commitment to peaceful resolutions of conflicts in the Southern African Development Community region and Central African Republic, as well as in the border areas between Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Angolan troops have also been involved in peacekeeping missions in Central Africa, as well as in counterterrorism operations against armed Islamist groups in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province.
• Urge fellow African governments to ensure that all security forces deployed on counterterrorism operations are held accountable under human rights laws and standards.
• Urge fellow African governments to enforce the operationalization of local mobile courts for each African contingent engaged in peace and counterterrorism operations.
• Press regional leaders to ensure respect for and enforce international humanitarian and human rights law.
• Press for the East African Community (EAC) to create a human rights compliance and monitoring component for the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.