Rule of Law
The judiciary is not independent in Angola. As one Angolan jurist put it, the judiciary is ―hostage
to the executive.‖36 The Ministry of Justice has formal authority and budgetary control over the
entire judicial branch. According to the 2010 constitution, the president now nominates—and the
National Assembly formally elects—all justices of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and
Audit Court. Under the previous constitution, the president nominated only three of the seven
justices of the Constitutional Court, while the National Assembly named another three and the
Supreme Court named one.
The judiciary is subject to political interference by the government, president, and other
politically powerful individuals affiliated with the ruling party. The government has rewarded
compliant judges with paid posts as chairs of committees. Some close to the system argue that
sentences are frequently paid off, especially in civil cases. Political loyalty plays an important
role in the system, and comparable cases are not necessarily treated equally, nor do they yield
predictable outcomes. Bribery and influence peddling are commonplace in the courts.37 Due
process is inconsistent, and prosecutorial independence is limited at best. There is a shortage of
trained judges and lawyers, especially outside of the provincial capitals. However, justice sector
reform is officially a government priority, and the state has undertaken the rehabilitation of some
provincial courthouses and in some instances increased salaries for judicial officials.
Although Article 67 of the constitution declares the presumption of innocence, in practice
individuals are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Simple court cases can take five to 10
years to be heard. Many laws pertaining to the judiciary and the penal system date from the
single-party era and have not been updated.
Only a handful of the 168 municipalities had functioning courts in 2008, and only a few
more are operational today. Most municipal matters must therefore be dealt with at the provincial
level. According to one report by an Angolan legal rights group, judges outside of Luanda are
generally poorly informed about national legislation, largely because the state does not make this
information readily available.38
Despite these problems, rulings are mixed: while there are often partisan rulings, there
are also cases in which the rule of law is upheld. Civil society organizations are beginning to use
the court system, with mixed success, to challenge restrictions on legal civil liberties. It is too
early to say how successful these efforts will be.
Defendants are legally entitled to a public defender, although this is rarely available in
practice. The Bar Association (Ordem dos Advogados) is charged with providing legal assistance
to those who cannot afford private counsel. There are also nongovernmental organizations and
private lawyers who provide legal aid, and work is reportedly under way on a public defender
law. In general, there are not enough lawyers in the country, and most are concentrated in the
capital city. According to legal experts, four provinces are entirely without lawyers (North
Lunda, South Lunda, Moxico, and Cuando Cubango), and others have but a handful. (For
example, there is reportedly only one in Bie province.)
Public officials are periodically prosecuted for corruption and other crimes. Often these
instances are highly publicized and occur in conjunction with presidential announcements of a
renewed assault on corruption, but such efforts are episodic rather than systematic.
The new Constitutional Court is seen as somewhat more independent than other courts,
although its endorsement of the troubled 2008 electoral process tarnished that image. In a
significant demonstration of independence, the court struck down Article 26 of the Law on
Crimes against State Security, which had essentially given the state the authority to classify
virtually any act as a crime.39 As a result, the August 2010 conviction of four Cabindan human
rights activists in connection with a fatal attack on the Togolese football team was overturned.
The president’s office exercises effective civilian control over the security forces, under
General (Retired) Manuel Helder Vieira Dias Junior, rather than the Ministry of Defense or the
Ministry of Interior. The military as such does not interfere in political processes. Leading
generals in the armed forces have received privileged positions in joint ventures with foreign
investors and have been given land and other significant economic assets. Members of the
Presidential Guard are also given shares in economic ventures. Such privileges reflect the larger
picture in which the president and the ruling party use their command of economic resources to
secure political loyalty and ensure that any would-be whistleblowers are themselves tarred with
the corruption brush. Military officials are no more or less likely to be held accountable for
corrupt practices than other state officials.
Article 37 of the constitution recognizes the right of citizens, as individuals and
collectivities, to own private property, which may be expropriated by the state for ―public use‖
with fair compensation. The protection of property rights is poor in Angola. In 2009 the country
ranked 114 out of 115 in the International Property Rights Index.40 Most commercial disputes are
not taken to court. Here, as in other areas in Angola, credible laws are not enforced or are
directly contravened at the discretion of the president or other public officials.
The state has behaved capriciously when it comes to respect for property rights pertaining
to land. Article 5 of the 2010 constitution recognizes the right of local communities to have
access to and use of land, but the state retains the right to expropriate land in the public interest,
with compensation in accordance with the law. It is difficult and time consuming to register title
to land, and the courts’ enforcement is weak.