National and International Responses to Forced Evictions in Luanda

International Community

Several international organizations have publicly denounced the human rights violations caused by forced evictions carried out by the government of Angola in Luanda.

The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office in Angola issued a public note reacting to the eviction of March 13, 2006 in Cambamba. According to this note, the UN office was “…witness of serious violations of the fundamental rights of people living in the Bairros [neighborhoods] Cambamba I and II…” These violations included “excessive use of force and violence by state agents,” “demolitions with a questionable mandate,” “evictions without compensation,” “abuses against human rights defenders,” “detentions,” and “abuse of power.”197 The head of the UN Human Rights Office in Angola has also visited the evictees in the area of Cambambas on August 19, 2006.

On March 30, 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living also issued a public statement expressing “serious concern about persistent practice of forced evictions in Angola.”198 This UN expert referred to the forced evictions of March 13, 2006 in the Cambambas as the “more recent forced evictions and demolitions of homes undertaken by the Luanda Provincial Government…” He said “I have [been] following closely for some time the situation with respect to housing rights in Angola, particularly in light of the persisting practice of forced evictions in Luanda. I have brought my concerns to the attention of national authorities, but no response has been received yet and the most recent events suggest that such appeals are not being taken into account.” 199

To this date, the Special Rapporteur has not been able to undertake an official mission to Angola. The Special Rapporteur attended a seminar in Luanda—the National Urban Forum—organized by the Ministry for Urban Planning and Environment and the UN Human Rights Office in Angola on April 9, 2007. It is yet unclear if this marked the beginning of a new trend on the part of the Angolan government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur or what impact this recent short visit by the Rapporteur may have on his official mission and recommendations. 

Amnesty International has exposed and condemned the human rights violations caused by the forced evictions that took place in Luanda since 2001.200 The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (CHORE) has also issued several public statements denouncing forced evictions in Angola.201Similarly, the NGO Christian Aid has reported on the forced evictions in Angola’s capital, particularly in the area of Cambambas.202  

At the time of writing of this report Human Rights Watch had no information that any bilateral donor had issued public statements condemning forced evictions in Luanda either in capitals or through their diplomatic representatives in Luanda. Five months after the March 2006 evictions in Cambamba, SOS Habitat invited the diplomatic community in Luanda to visit the site to witness the harsh conditions under which the remaining victims of the forced evictions were still living. According to the organization, representatives of the United Kingdom, United States and German embassies visited the site but made no public statements.

On September 20, 2006, the German Embassy and other EU diplomatic representations in Luanda held a meeting with SOS Habitat to obtain information about forced evictions in Luanda but have not informed the organization of any action subsequent to that meeting.203 The European Commission has also discussed the issue internally but has not made any public statement on this matter. To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge it has also not carried out demarches about this issue with the Angolan authorities. 204

The reaction of donors to forced evictions in Luanda is inadequate in view of the human rights violations documented in this report. Stronger commitment and support to national and international organizations that expose such violations and help evictees is needed, and human rights standards on evictions should be incorporated into bilateral and multilateral development cooperation.

Angolan government

The government’s response to the human rights abuses described by Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat has been manifestly insufficient. According to media reports credited to sources of the Angolan government, on March 31, 2006, the Permanent Mission of Angola to the United Nations in Geneva sent a letter to the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights denying all facts cited by the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing in his public statement referred to above. It accused the UN of bad faith and intolerable pressure on the government.205 

In May 2, 2006, Angola’s Prime Minister Fernando Dias dos Santos attended an open inquiry session at the National Assembly, initiated at the request of the main opposition party (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, UNITA), and answered specific questions by members of parliament about forced evictions and demolitions in Luanda. He stated that in his view the issue of demolitions involved three different groups of people: (a) those that occupied land legally and to which, he claimed, the government had paid and would continue to pay compensation; (b) those who occupied land illegally and to which the government would no longer pay compensation; (c) those who occupied land illegally but unknowingly through corrupt municipal officials acting without the competence or power to award land concessions.206

The prime minister did not clarify what constituted legal or illegal occupation but he did not link legality or illegality to the holding of formal title. He described illegal occupation as situations where people “anarchically” build “shacks” in a piece of land with the purpose of claiming undue compensation from the government, often having housing elsewhere. He did not clarify what procedures or criteria were followed to ascertain which people fell in which of the three categories. He confirmed the government’s intention to investigate and hold to account civil servants involved in illegal land concession schemes. However, he said nothing about what had or would be done about the citizens who fell victim to such schemes and consequently occupied land in good faith, believing they had followed proper legal procedure.

In December 23, 2005, the provincial governor of Luanda issued a decision (despacho) establishing a commission of enquiry to investigate the “illegal concession of land in the municipalities of Kilamba-Kiaxi, Samba and Viana.”207Human Rights Watch could not obtain information about the results of the enquiry or any other measures concerning this situation, despite efforts to meet different officials of the provincial government.   

The prime minister said in his statement that any citizens who feel their rights were not respected can submit a complaint to the body responsible for the acts that violated the rights and, if not satisfied, can appeal to a higher body of the administration.208 In the evictions researched by Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat most people did not receive a formal notification with precise information about the evictions, its legal basis and the body that ordered it. Formal complaints were, therefore, extremely difficult to make.

In his May 2 statement at the National Assembly, Prime Minister Dias dos Santos also specifically addressed the use of private security companies during eviction operations, particularly regarding the March 13, 2006 eviction in Cambamba. According to him such companies are “subsidiary bodies of the National Police.”209     

In the same statement, the prime minister gave some examples of eviction cases that had been settled peacefully through the relocation of the families involved.210He accused the Angolan organization SOS Habitat—the main organization working to protect the housing rights of families affected by forced evictions in Luanda—of “inciting” a group of residents of Cambamba I and II to refuse a relocation offer made by Luanda’s provincial government. The prime minister said that he agreed that NGOs should defend the rights of victims of any injustice, but that they should not “create situations only to justify their own existence…or to create difficulties for the government.”211 Four of the leading human rights organizations in Angola promptly issued a public statement in support of SOS Habitat and reaffirming that the government of Angola had been carrying out evictions in violation of human rights standards.212According to one of these organizations, “[t]he strategy of the Angolan government is to try to discredit its partners [the defenders and the victims of its arbitrariness].”213

On June 13, 2006, Human Rights Watch addressed a letter to the Angolan permanent representative to the United Nations in New York and to the Angolan ambassador to Belgium. In this letter, Human Rights Watch outlined the main findings of its research and sought the government’s views about the allegations contained in this report. Although we obtained no reply from the permanent representative in New York, the ambassador to Belgium, Toko Serrao, agreed to meet with us and discussed the issue at length.

Ambassador Serrao told Human Rights Watch that he had received letters from other organizations about evictions in Luanda and that the Angolan government was the first to be concerned about it. He stated that the housing shortage was a problem that affected all of Luanda which the government was addressing through its housing program, including the building of “social housing” (housing aimed at resettlement of displaced population).214 Ambassador Serrao stated that his government had never taken people out of their places and left them on their own. In some cases the government had relocated people who were in danger in their neighborhoods due to land slides. According to him, the displacement of population in Luanda’s neighborhoods had taken place openly and with notice to the population: “the houses targeted for demolition are numbered, residents are warned in advance and they are transported for new sites.”215

The ambassador said that there were many cases of fraud from individuals who returned to their original places of residence after being relocated by the government only to illegitimately claim compensation again. Finally, Ambassador Serrao told Human Rights Watch that international organizations must evaluate the situation in his country by local development standards. According to him, Angola is not fully developed. There is no computer based registration system, so there is no way to keep track of which people receive alternative housing and what they do with that housing or if they stay in their relocation sites.216

While in Luanda in August 2006, Human Rights Watch met with the minister for urban planning and environment, Sita Jose, who presented the housing policies developed by his ministry. One of the stated aims of such policies is to “ensure the universal right to housing.” The minister and other staff from the ministry present at the meeting acknowledged that the informal sector “makes our cities” and that part of the government’s strategy to address informality is to include informal construction and people’s investments in informal housing into the formal economy: “irregular occupants will be transformed into regularized citizens integrated into the urban society.”217

The policies as described by the minister appear to be based on a serious concern for the safety and living conditions of the tens of thousands of residents of informal areas in Luanda. But as presented they were in sharp contrast with the reality of the mass evictions carried out by the government documented by Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat. 

Minister Jose also told Human Rights Watch that there were areas in Luanda that were occupied in an “anarchic” manner, where constructions are too precarious to allow regularization, so people must be removed and all structures demolished to give way to new projects. The presentation by the minister and his staff stressed that only “anarchic constructions” have been demolished so far and that evictions have only taken place in areas reserved by the government for public use and which were improperly occupied by individuals acting in bad faith and seeking undue compensation or relocation.

The minister, however, failed to provide a precise definition of “anarchic” constructions or describe any criteria and procedures to determine in specific cases whether a construction (house) is “anarchic.” The minister did not classify such housing as illegal. He also did not detail how the government is ensuring that the public is informed of what land is reserved by the state for public interest projects which is vital to protect residents from arbitrary decisions by the government concerning clearance of inhabited areas. 

Human Rights Watch’s research demonstrated that many residents of the so-called anarchic areas are actually longstanding occupants, many of whom had their occupation acknowledged or authorized by the state as far back as late 1980s or early 1990s. Others who continued to occupy these areas after that time and were affected by forced evictions were people who moved to the peri-urban zone of Luanda during or right after the war. They occupied land according to customary use, as detailed in the preceding chapters of this report. Others developed urbanization plans for their neighborhoods supported by local authorities.218 Many had brick houses. A brick house represents, on average, a four to five year investment by a family and cannot be regarded as a temporary shelter built for the purpose of claiming undue compensation from the state.219 Even corrugated metal housing is not necessarily temporary shelter—most urban poor in Luanda live in such housing for many years while trying to save money to build better structures. 

Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat recognize that there have been cases where the Angolan government followed procedures to evict and relocate people. Human Rights Watch also acknowledges that the government has the right to carry out development and “beautification” projects to improve living conditions in Luanda, including, where necessary, by relocating residents. However, such projects should be carried out in a manner that ensures respect for peoples’ substantive and procedural rights, including their right to be free of forced evictions of the type described in this report. The government must also take measures to ensure secure land tenure in the long term.

The government’s public response to forced evictions does not adequately explain or in any way justify the violations documented in this report. Its urban development policies may be designed to take account of the situation and rights of residents of informal settlements. However, its actions are at odds with such policies and there have been no visible significant efforts so far to either address the violations that have already occurred or prevent future violations.

Other state institutions 

Other Angolan institutions such as Luanda’s provincial government and the general prosecutor have also responded insufficiently to forced evictions in Luanda.

SOS Habitat circulated several public notes in 2005 and 2006 alerting the civilian and security authorities to human rights abuses committed in the course of forced evictions in Luanda.220 It has also assisted residents of affected communities to submit complaints, petitions, and letters to relevant authorities, informing them of the forced evictions and asking these entities to act, within their competencies, to help stop the evictions, investigate abuses by police and government officials, and compensate people for the damages they suffered during evictions.221

SOS Habitat has also helped residents seek legal aid from the Angolan bar association to submit complaints to the criminal investigation police (National Directorate for Criminal Investigation, DNIC) and possibly initiate court cases against the state authorities for their illegal eviction. Some communities have obtained legal aid and investigations have been initiated but none of these cases have so far been adjudicated in court.222 An Angolan human rights organization described the situation this way:

In the process of eviction and demolitions people suffered cruel and degrading treatment…Some of those acts constitute crimes. There were shootings that caused serious injuries and mutilation of the victims. With the help of SOS-HABITAT, the victims submitted complaints to the criminal investigation police, but the cases have not been following its normal course.223

On 22 February, 2006, the committee of residents of Bairro da Cidadania submitted a complaint signed by 105 people to the delegate of the public prosecutor at DNIC about abuses committed by police officers during evictions. According to SOS Habitat, by January 24, 2007 they had not received an answer.224Evictees from Bem-Vindo filed a complaint with DNIC on November, 15, 2005. At the time of writing the case was still in the investigative phase. Angolan human rights NGOs have noted the lack of response by the office of the public prosecutor to complaints from evictees:  

We are not aware of any public position of the General Prosecutor on this issue, when the Statute of this body grants [the prosecutor as] the defender of democratic legality legitimate means of denouncing, alerting or even using judicial avenues, in legal support of those that have been harmed by violations by the state administration.225

Residents have also submitted letters and petitions to Luanda’s provincial Government. For example, SOS Habitat and the residents’ committees of several Luanda neighborhoods researched in this report (Gaiolas, Talatona, Wengi Maka, Bairro da Cidadania, Maria Eugenia Neto, Mbondo Chape) addressed a letter, dated October 6, 2004, to the provincial government. The signatories of the letter asked for a meeting to discuss several measures they proposed regarding forced evictions and demolitions in Luanda. These included requests for the government to stop evictions in violation of human rights standards, promote mechanisms to regularize land possession, provide appropriate relocation sites in advance of evictions, pass legislation to ensure eviction decisions are authorized by a court, and provide support to community development projects proposed by affected communities or civil society organizations. The provincial government has not replied.

Evictees from Bairro da Cidadania and Benfica have addressed petitions to the National Assembly, in particular through its commission on human rights, petitions, complaints, and suggestions by citizens.226The assembly asked for information from Luanda’s provincial government about the events alleged in the petitions.227It informed the residents of Bairro da Cidadania about such requests, but when Human Rights Watch visited in August 2006, the petitioners had not been advised of any information provided by the provincial government or any measures taken subsequent to their complaints. On March 15, 2006, members of parliament visited the area of Cambamba and verified the conditions under which residents were living immediately after evictions.228Parliamentarians from UNITA visited the site again in August 2006. The assembly also organized the enquiry session to the government described above but, so far, has not taken any other action. 

Other organizations have tried to bring the situation of evictees in Luanda to the attention of the Angolan government. In April 2006, “[t]he president of the republic, at the request of AJPD, NCC and Gremio ABC, appointed one of his advisors to speak to these organization about the practice of forced eviction. This meeting took place last year (2006) and the advisor was going to write a report with information about arbitrariness on the part of National Police officers, local administrations, and staff of private companies. We have not received any information from the President’s Office after the meeting…”229   

197 United Nations Human Rights Office in Angola, Information Note, “Forced evictions in Luanda.”

198 Press Release by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, “Human Rights Expert Expresses Serious Concern about Persistent Practice of Forced Evictions in Angola,” March 30, 2006, (accessed March 26, 2007).

199 Press Release by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, “Human Rights Expert Expresses Serious Concern about Persistent Practice of Forced Evictions in Angola.”

200 Amnesty International, “Angola: Lives in Ruins,” AI Index: AFR 12/001/2007, January 15, 2007.

201 COHRE’s Executive Director addressed a public letter to the Angolan President on April 10, 2006, denouncing the forced evictions in Luanda and calling for immediate measures to assist those affected by them. A previous letter had been sent to the Angolan government in December 2005.

202 Christian Aid, “Forced from their homes at gunpoint,” October 12, 2006, (accessed February 25, 2007); “Christian Aid partner in Angola moves into camp for homeless,” August 16, 2006, (accessed March 26, 2007).

203 SOS Habitat written comments to Human Rights Watch, Lisbon, February 28, 2007.

204 Human Rights Watch Email communication from representatives of the European Commission in Brussels and Luanda, March 16 and 21, 2007. 

205 “Angola’s Permanent Mission denies rapporteur’s allegations,” Government of Angola news release, April 1, 2006, (accessed March 5, 2007).

206 Record of the address by the Prime Minister Fernando dos Santos at the enquiry session before the National Assembly, not dated (on file with Human Rights Watch).

207 “Despacho n. 1888/2005 de 23 de Dezembro,” Provincial Government of Luanda, (accessed February 4, 2007). See section above on false perception of security of tenure by residents and refer to footnote 190.

208  Record of the address by the Prime Minister Fernando dos Santos at the enquiry session before the National Assembly, not dated (on file with Human Rights Watch).

209 Record of the address by the Prime Minister Fernando dos Santos at the enquiry session before the National Assembly, not dated (on file with Human Rights Watch): “Public security companies are subsidiary organs of the National Police. They are supervised and controlled by the General Command of the National Police, through its National Directorate for Public Security. They report to the General Command and the National Police, and they are compelled  to cooperate whenever requested to do so, so if the security company VISGO acted at the request and in cooperation with the National Police it acted legally.”

210 Sope da Fortaleza, Boavista, Senado da Camara, “Thetchenia” building, Cambamba I and II (these two only partially).

211 Record of the address by the Prime Minister Fernando dos Santos at the enquiry session before the National Assembly, not dated (on file with Human Rights Watch). Media reports of this session in the Angolan news agency stated that the prime minister had, in his address, denounced “incitement of the population to unduly occupy urban areas where the government is building housing projects and social and economic infrastructure.” “Primeiro-ministro denuncia incitamentos  à ocupaçÃo indevida de terrenos urbanos,” Angola Press, May 5, 2006.

212 Public letter signed by Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (Associacao Justica Paz e Democracia, AJPD), National Council for Citizenship (NCC), Gremio ABC, and Okutiuka.

213 Human Rights Watch Email communication from AJPD, Luanda, January 12, 2007.

214 Human Rights Watch interview with Ambassador Toko Serrao, Brussels, July 6, 2006.

215 Ibid.

216 Ibid.

217 Human Rights Watch interview with Minister Sita Jose, Luanda, August 10, 2006.

218 This was the case with the area of Soba Kopassa. 

219 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.B., Angolan land expert who requested anonymity, August 1, 2006.

220 For example: a communication dated June 28, 2005, addressed to the Public Prosecutor; notes dated  August 26 and 30, 2006 addressed to the commander of the police station at Project Nova Vida;  a note dated February 6, 2006, addressed to the president of the ninth commission of the National Assembly, the minister for internal affairs, Luanda’s provincial governor and the municipal administrator of Kilamba Kiaxi; Communication dated February 27, 2006; note dated March 14, 2006, about violations of human rights in Cambamba I and II and Banga We (on file with Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat). 

221 For example: a note dated August 4, 2005, addressed to the deputy provincial governor of Luanda by residents of Soba Kopassa; a note dated July 8, 2003, addressed to the Coordinator of Panguila’s Housing Complex Project by residents from Benfica (with copy to the minister for public works and minister for urban management and environment, among others); a submission dated December 7, 2002, addressed to the parliamentary commission on human rights by residents of Maria Eugenia Neto and 28 de Agosto, among others; a submission dated October 13, 2003, addressed to the Public Prosecutor by the residents of Talatona with copy to Luanda’s provincial governor and the minister for urban management and environment, among others (on file with Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat).   

222 SOS Habitat memo on individual and community cases where judicial action as been initiated, dated January 24 2007 (on file with Human Rights Watch). A few residents have received legal aid from the Angolan bar association to bring suits against evictions by private individuals but such cases are not covered in this report.

223 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with AJPD, Luanda, January 12, 2007.  

224 Letter addressed to the delegate of the public prosecutor with National Directorate of Criminal Investigation, dated February, 14, 2006; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Rafael Morais, SOS Habitat staff member, June 12, 2006.

225 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with AJPD, Luanda, January 12, 2007.

226 Petition by residents from Benfica to the commission on human rights of the national assembly, dated May 25, 2002 and signed by 34 individuals; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Rafael Marques, SOS Habitat staff member, June 12, 2006.

227 Human Rights watch telephone interview with Rafael Morais, SOS Habitat staff member, June 12, 2006; Note 114/CDH-5.1/02 from the Commission on Human Rights, Petitions, Complaints and Suggestions from Citizens, addressed to Luanda’s provincial governor, dated October 17, 2002 (on file with Human Rights Watch and SOS Habitat).

228 Human Rights Watch interview with M.U., 40-year-old evictee from Cambamba II, Luanda, July 27, 2006.

229 Human Rights Watch email correspondence with AJPD, Luanda, January 12, 2007.