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Street vendors serve customers in Luanda, Angola, August 20, 2022.  © 2022 Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

by Iracelma Adriano, Intern, Africa Division

The Angolan authorities have once again used excessive and unnecessary force to disperse a peaceful protest, this time by women street traders, in Angola’s capital, Luanda.

Last week, about 400 women vendors, known locally as zungueiras, gathered to march from the local Sao Paulo market to the Luanda governor’s official residence to protest the city’s decision to reorganize informal street markets in some areas of the capital.

Instead of clearing traffic and helping the marchers to proceed in safety, the police met them halfway with dogs and, without warning, fired tear gas at the crowd. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that several people, including protesters and bystanders, were injured as they ran away from the tear gas and officers beating them with batons.  

Successive Angolan governments have a long history of abuses against street traders. In 2013, Human Rights Watch documented how local authorities and security forces mistreated vendors, including women with children, during operations to force them off the streets. In 2019, a police officer shot dead a woman during a heated argument as she tried to reclaim her seized goods. Last year, a police officer killed another woman during an argument between street vendors and Luanda trade inspectors.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that officers may only use force when strictly necessary. When using force, law enforcement officials should exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and to the legitimate objective to be achieved. The 2020 UN guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement provides that tear gas should only be employed when necessary to prevent further physical harm and should not be used to disperse nonviolent demonstrations. Dogs should be “under the effective control of their handlers at all times.”

The Angolan authorities’ use of force against people who are simply exercising their right to protest should not be tolerated and needs to stop immediately. The government should ensure any efforts to ban or organize street trade are conducted by officers operating with full respect for human rights. Those found to be violating the law and committing abuse should be investigated and held accountable.

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