Angola | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Angola's civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5 due to a cease-fire that ended hostilities and provided for the return of civilians to their homes.


Angola's best chance for peace after nearly three decades of civil war emerged in February 2002, when the man who came to symbolize the struggle against the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was shot and killed. The bullet-ridden body of Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), was displayed on national television. Two months later, the remaining UNITA leadership signed a cease-fire with the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. The two factions of the former rebel group--UNITA and UNITA-Renovada--joined together to become one political party.

Angola has been at war since shortly after independence from Portugal in 1975. During the Cold War, the United States and South Africa backed UNITA while the former Soviet Union and Cuba supported the Marxist Dos Santos government. A peace accord that led to presidential and legislative elections in 1992 disintegrated when Savimbi lost his bid for the presidency and went back to war. A subsequent peace agreement in 1994 also fell apart. 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.

Although the United Nations is playing a leading humanitarian role in the rehabilitation of Angola, it did not send peacekeepers as it had in the past. UNITA appears committed to ending hostilities for good; about 80,000 former UNITA soldiers and more than 300,000 of their family members are camped in transition centers around the country. Fighters have disarmed, and about 5,000 of them have been integrated into the armed forces and the police.

Angola faces major obstacles if it is to establish lasting peace. The MPLA and UNITA so far disagree about how rapidly political and economic reforms can occur, and both sides will need to demonstrate a commitment to rebuilding the country rather than to simply divide up Angola's economic pie. The peace process is likely to have a better chance if it includes the broad-based civil society movement that has been pressing for an end to the war for the past several years.

The conflict has claimed at least half a million lives. There are more than 4 million Angolans who are internally displaced and another 470,000 Angolan refugees in other countries. More than 1.5 million people require food aid, and about 500,000 of them became accessible to humanitarian agencies for the first time in 2002. An estimated 7 million land mines are spread across the country, and at least 70,000 people have lost limbs to them. Roads, bridges, and the communication infrastructure have been severely damaged. The health and educational systems are barely functioning. More than 50 percent of rural children do not attend school. Only 3 out of 10 rural women older than 15 years of age can read and write.

Angola is Africa's second-largest oil producer. Petroleum accounts for 90 percent of government revenues, but corruption and the war have prevented the average Angolan from benefiting from the wealth. An estimated $1 billion in oil revenue goes missing every year. The government has used its oil revenues to procure weapons, while UNITA has used diamonds to fund its arms purchases. In December 2002, the UN Security Council lifted a diamonds, fuel, and arms embargo against UNITA. A travel ban imposed on UNITA leaders was also lifted.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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. Although the National Assembly has little real power, it is not a rubber stamp. Members engage in 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. Dos Santos has said he would not stand for reelection. Polls that were originally being considered for 2002 are not expected to take place until 2004.

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 are detained for long periods in life-threatening conditions while awaiting trial.

Serious human rights abuses, including torture, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and extrajudicial execution, were perpetrated during the war by both government and UNITA security forces. Although such violations subsided in 2002, New York-based Human Rights Watch warned that the United Nations and the Angolan government were not doing enough to ensure the safety of displaced Angolans returning to their homes. The rights group said Angolans faced harassment and restriction of movement, and were being forced to relocate where they might risk political persecution and human rights abuses. A separatist rebellion in the enclave of Cabinda, marked by low-scale guerrilla activity and sporadic hostage-taking of foreign nationals, continued in 2002.

Despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, the media are subject to severe and sometimes violent measures by both the government and UNITA. There are several independent weeklies and at least five independent radio stations. Defamation of the president or his representatives is a criminal offense and is punishable with imprisonment or fines. There is no truth defense to defamation charges. Press repression eased in 2002 following the renewal of the peace process.

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 in the cities. The government dominates the labor movement and restricts worker rights to strike and bargain collectively. The vast majority of rural agricultural workers remain outside the modern economic sector.