Freedom in the World
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President Jose Eduardo dos Santos called for presidential elections to be held in 2002 despite continued fighting with Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). However, civil society groups oppose holding elections while the conflict is ongoing. Dos Santos said he would not stand for reelection, but this announcement had no immediate impact on the peace process. The Inter-Ecclesiastical Committee for Peace in Angola heads the initiative to end the war, but little progress was made in 2001. Savimbi sent letters to the Roman Catholic Church in Angola, welcoming its mediation role, and called for stepped-up efforts by Russia and the United States, apparently hoping for a more favorable attitude from a conservative U.S. government. Savimbi wants to renegotiate the 1994 Lusaka accord, brokered by the United Nations, while Dos Santos insists on its full implementation.
Angola has been at war since shortly after independence from Portugal in 1975. During the Cold War, the United States and South Africa backed the rebel UNITA movement while the former Soviet Union and Cuba supported the Marxist Dos Santos government. The conflict has claimed at least half a million lives and displaced a million people, who survive on food aid. An estimated seven million land mines are spread across the country. The UN Security Council voted in February 1999 to end the UN peacekeeping mission in Angola following the collapse of the peace process and the shooting down of two UN planes. Neither the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) nor UNITA has ever fully complied with the Lusaka Accords.
Rights abuses continued on both sides in the conflict in 2001. The government maintained the upper hand militarily, and UNITA stepped up its guerrilla activity, particularly along the government-held coast and near the capital. In one incident that drew international attention, UNITA fighters attacked a train and killed more than 250 people. The train had hit a land mine placed on the track, and passengers were gunned down as they fled the burning locomotive.
Fears that Angola's conflict could spread across the borders of Zambia and Namibia prompted the three countries in 2001 to set up a joint commission on border security. Angola has been using Namibian territory to launch raids against Angolan rebels, and Namibia has been using Angolan territory to pursue Namibian dissident forces.
Angola is Africa's second largest oil producer. Petroleum accounts for 90 percent of government revenue, but corruption and the war have prevented the average Angolan from benefiting from the wealth. The government has used its oil revenue to procure weapons, while UNITA has used diamonds to fund its arms purchases. UNITA is under a diamonds, fuel, and arms embargo, and its leaders are restricted from travel; it is estimated by a UN panel to have made more than $100 million from diamond sales in 2000. Despite the sanctions, a UN report in October 2001 said $1 million worth of diamonds was being smuggled out of Angola daily and attributed one-quarter of the smuggling to UNITA.
De Beers, the world's largest diamond company, said in May 2001 that it was suspending investment and prospecting operations in Angola after talks with the government failed to define the terms under which De Beers would continue to operate in Angola. There were indications toward the end of the year that De Beers would return.
Angolans freely elected their own representatives for the only time in the September 1992 UN-supervised presidential and legislative elections. The vote was described by international observers as generally free and fair despite many irregularities. However, Savimbi rejected his defeat to Dos Santos in the first round of presidential voting and resumed the guerrilla war. The MPLA dominates the 220-member national assembly, although 70 UNITA members continue to occupy seats. More than 100 political parties exist in Angola, and so far they have shown no real movement towards cohesion.
Dos Santos in 1998 abolished the position of prime minister. Although the national assembly has little real power, it is not a rubber stamp. It has heated debates, and legislation proposed by the opposition is considered and sometimes passed. A parliamentary peace commission is based on a bill put forward by a UNITA deputy.
Local courts rule on civil matters and petty crime in some areas, but an overall lack of training and infrastructure inhibit judicial proceedings, which are also heavily influenced by the government. Many prisoners were detained for long periods in life threatening conditions while awaiting trial.
Serious human rights abuses by both government and UNITA security forces, including torture, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and extrajudicial execution, continued in 2001. Both sides conduct forced recruitment of civilians, including minors. A separatist rebellion in the enclave of Cabinda, marked by low-scale guerrilla activity and temporary hostage taking of foreign nationals, continued in 2001.
In July, the government evicted about 13,000 families from the Luanda neighborhood of Boa Vista and moved them to tents outside the city. The government said the move was aimed at improving living conditions because of the threat of landslides, but the land had been earmarked for development by a government company. Journalists covering the eviction were roughed up.
Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, the media are subject to severe and sometimes violent measures. A draft press law, referred to as a "gag law" by journalists, died in 2000 following public debate. There are several independent weeklies and at least five independent radio stations. In response to government pressure, the Catholic-run Radio Ecclesia in July 2001 replaced its news reports with music for two days and then followed up with an interview with a member of the opposition. Repression eased slightly in 2001 in the capital, Luanda, but continued unabated in provincial areas. In one incident, Alegria Gustavo, a national radio journalist in Huambo, was shot dead, allegedly by a provincial administrator, in July.
Religious freedom is generally respected. Despite legal protections, de facto societal discrimination against women remains strong, particularly in rural areas. There is a high incidence of spousal abuse. The war has contributed to violence against women, forced servitude, and sexual slavery. Women are most likely to become victims of land mines because they are usually the ones who forage for food and firewood. Women, however, do occupy cabinet positions and numerous national assembly seats.
Labor rights are guaranteed by the constitution, but only a few independent unions are functioning and those exist only in the cities. The government dominates the labor movement and restricts workers' rights, although there has been some improvement. The government and the Angolan Confederation of Unions agreed in February 2001 to a monthly minimum wage of $60 following a series of strikes. The vast majority of rural agricultural workers remain outside the modern economic sector.