Freedom in the World
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Angola remained stable more than three years after the end of three decades of civil war, and 2005 saw thousands more refugees and internally displaced persons return to the country. However, 30 years after independence, the country remains stricken by human rights abuses, dilapidated infrastructure, endemic corruption, heavily mined territory, and disease. While President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) did not set a date for long-anticipated presidential and parliamentary elections-the first since 1992- they are expected to take place in 2006; civil society groups and opposition parties have accused the government of violating electoral laws in the run-up to the elections. In the spring of 2005, an outbreak of the deadly Ebola-like Marburg virus in northern Angola led to more than 300 deaths.
Angola was at war continually for nearly three decades following independence from Portugal in 1975. During the Cold War, the United States and South Africa backed the rebel group National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) led by Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, while the former Soviet Union and Cuba supported the Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government. A 1991 peace agreement-the Bicesse Accord-that led to general elections in 1992 under UN supervision disintegrated when Savimbi lost the first round of the presidential vote and resumed fighting. The Lusaka Protocol, a subsequent peace agreement signed in 1994, also fell apart. The collapse of the peace process, ineffective sanctions, and the shooting down of two UN planes caused the UN Security Council to vote in February 1999 to end the UN peacekeeping mission in Angola.
A 2002 ceasefire between UNITA and the ruling MPLA, spurred by Savimbi's death earlier that year and formalized in the Luena Memorandum of Understanding, has held. However, the resettlement of 4 million refugees and internally displaced people has exposed severe deficiencies in social services such as housing, education, and health care in this oil- and diamond-rich country. The conflict claimed 500,000 to 2 million lives, displaced more than 4 million people, and sent almost 500,000 fleeing to neighboring countries. The majority of resettled people today remain without land, proper shelter and food, health care, jobs, education, and even identification documents. They commonly lack transport to return to places of origin or are coerced to resettle elsewhere. The resettlement process has been slowed by the presence of an estimated 700,000 land mines and by a war-ruined infrastructure, which make large tracts of the country inaccessible to humanitarian aid. Women are vulnerable to sexual abuse and rarely receive demobilization benefits. Former child sol-diers-estimates vary from 7,000 to 11,000-have also remained outside the disarmament process. In October 2005, a joint assessment by the United Nations and the government estimated that more than 91,000 people remain internally displaced within Angola.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), a lead actor in the humanitarian effort, is shifting its focus from repatriation and emergency relief to reintegration, and its organized repatriation operation will come to an end in 2005. More than 700,000 Angolans are dependent on food aid from the UN's World Food Programme.
UNITA appears committed to peace and has made the transition from being a disarmed military organization to becoming Angola's largest opposition party. About 80,000 former rebel soldiers have been demobilized; 5,000 of them have been integrated into the armed forces and the police. However, the MPLA and UNITA disagree about how rapidly political and economic reforms can occur, and much disagreement surrounds the management of Angola's extensive oil and diamond resources.
Angola is Africa's second-largest oil producer. Petroleum accounts for up to 90 percent of government revenues, but corruption and war have prevented the average Angolan from benefiting from the wealth. More than $1 billion in oil revenue goes missing each year, a situation likely to be exacerbated by an opaque, oil-backed, $2 billion loan from China's Eximbank intended to finance infrastructure recovery projects. While the country's rich diamond areas have been carved up between MPLA and UNITA elites, 85 percent of the population engages in subsistence agriculture. The government has failed to make significant progress in reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has urged greater transparency in accounting for the whereabouts of Angola's recent windfalls from high oil prices.
Accusations of human rights abuses against civilians in the oil exclave of Cabinda (located between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic on Congo [Brazzaville]), perpetrated mainly by government soldiers sent in to crush a low-intensity separatist conflict that has simmered for decades, continued in 2005. A report by Human Rights Watch claimed Angolan authorities have not properly investigated or addressed incidents of torture, arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, restrictions on freedom of movement, and sexual violence. In February, a local human rights group, the Mbpalabanda Civic Association, released a report alleging numerous instances of rape, murder, and arbitrary detentions against Cabindan civilians since September 2003. Nevertheless, and despite a spate of renewed clashes between Angolan and rebel forces earlier in the year, August saw the first repatriation of refugees to Cabinda in two years.
An outbreak of the deadly Ebola-like Marburg virus-first discovered in the northeastern Uige province in October 2004-resulted in the deaths of more than 220 people by July 2005. The health minister and World Health Organization declared the outbreak over in November 2005.
Citizens of Angola cannot change their government democratically. Angolans freely elected their own representatives only once, in UN-supervised presidential and legislative elections held in September 1992. International observers pronounced the vote generally free and fair despite some irregularities. However, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi rejected his loss to MPLA president Jose Eduardo dos Santos in the first round of presidential voting and resumed fighting, preventing a run-off election.
Following the 2002 Luena Memorandum of Understanding, the two factions of the former rebel group UNITA merged into one party, representing the most significant opposition to the ruling MPLA. Eighty-seven other opposition groups have formed a coalition with negligible weight, and about 125 parties are registered in Angola. The MPLA dominates the 220-member National Assembly; UNITA holds 70 seats. The National Assembly has little power, but members engage in heated debates and legislation proposed by the opposition is sometimes adopted.
General elections planned for 1997 have continually been put off. In 2004, President Dos Santos and the MPLA set legislative elections for September 2006. Dos Santos has not yet set a date for presidential elections, though he has proposed holding them in 2006; the president is mandated to announce the election date only 90 days prior, causing widespread concern about the country's electoral readiness. UNITA and other opposition parties have accused the government of delaying the elections for political reasons. In 2005, debate intensified over pertinent issues such as voter registration, civil disarmament, and particularly the makeup of the National Electoral Commission (NEC). Before the NEC formally took office in August, UNITA and other opposition parties accused Dos Santos and the MPLA of unfairly dominating the proposed commission, pointing out that nearly two-thirds of the 11-mem-ber commission were appointed by Dos Santos. In August, UNITA asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of government preparations for the legislative elections, accusing the MPLA of early campaigning and of diverting state resources to run preelection campaigns.
Political violence is still a problem. In March, clashes between MPLA and UNITA supporters in Kuando Kubnago province resulted in 29 injuries. Opposition parties blame the MPLA, police, and army for acts of violence and intimidation against their members and offices, especially in the provinces of Huambo and Moxico, where UNITA has traditionally claimed strong support. In August, MPLA-aligned local officials reportedly prevented UNITA from setting up offices in the Balombo municipality in the Benguela province; resulting clashes between the two sides led to the serious wounding of two people. Recently, unidentified gangs have burned down homes of UNITA members and ransacked the party's offices. An opposition member of parliament was murdered in Luanda in July 2004, and several other members of parliament were beaten in June. The ruling party denies responsibility and says harassment is not official policy.
Corruption and patronage are endemic in the government. In February, the IMF delayed a mission to Angola after the Finance Ministry failed to provide the fund with data concerning the whereabouts of an extra $600 million in oil revenues reaped by the country in 2004 as the consequence of high oil prices. In March, the Coalition of Reconciliation, Transparency, and Citizenship published a survey detailing the systematic practice of giving gasosas-literally "fizzy drinks" but in reality a small bribe-that underpins much of Angolan business in both rural and urban areas. Angola was ranked 151 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Following the 2002 ceasefire between the government and UNITA, media restrictions have become less stringent. However, despite constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression, journalists are often subject to intimidation, dismissal, and legal sanction by authorities; the result is self-censorship. In December 2004, Miguel de Carvalho, the head of the government news agency ANGOP, threatened to shoot a journalist working for the independent weekly Agora after the paper ran a series of articles on corruption and mismanagement at the agency. The detention of journalists still occurs, especially outside the capital. In July, journalist Celso Amaral was found guilty of mismanaging about $42,500 in state funds while running the state-controlled Radio National in the province of Huila and sentenced to 10 years in prison; Amaral's lawyers claimed the sentence was politically motivated.
Defamation of the president or his representatives is a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment or fines. Private media outlets are often denied access to official information and events, and they report problems with funding. There are several independent weekly newspapers and radio stations in Luanda, but the government dominates media elsewhere. In 2005, authorities continued to prevent the outspoken Roman Catholic radio, Radio Ecclesia, from broadcasting outside Luanda. In addition, high-ranking government officials pressured independent media to cover the government in a more favorable light. The only daily newspaper and the sole television station are state-owned. Internet access is limited to a small elite, as most citizens lack computers or even electricity.
Religious freedom is widely respected, despite colonial-era statutes that ban non-Christian religious groups. The educational system barely functions, suffering from underpaid and often corrupt teachers and severely damaged infrastructure. According to UNICEF, only 6 percent of 10- to-11-year-olds attended school.
Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic groups operate in Angola, demanding political reform and greater government accountability in human rights; in particular, churches have grown more outspoken. However, the government often denies NGOs access to Cabinda on security grounds and has not adequately fostered the participation of civil society in postwar reconstruction. In July, a report by the World Bank urged greater donor support for, and higher coordination among, civil society organizations in Angola. In 2005, the government continued to block the registration of the Association for Justice, Peace, and Democracy (AJPD), pending since 2000; nevertheless, the AJPD continued to function throughout the year.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and increasingly authorities are allowing opposition groups to hold demonstrations in Luanda. However, crackdowns are common in the interior of the country. In December 2004, police killed two people while breaking up a protest following several prisoner deaths in Luanda-Norte.
The right to strike and form unions is provided by the constitution, but the MPLA dominates the labor movement and only a few independent unions exist. The lack of a viable economy has hindered labor activity.
The judiciary is subject to extensive executive influence. The government has yet to establish a Constitutional Court, as mandated by the constitution. Local courts rule on civil matters and petty crime in some areas, but an overall lack of training and infrastructure and a large backlog of cases inhibit judicial proceedings. Only 23 of the 168 municipal courts are operational; as a result, traditional or informal courts are utilized. However, the courts do occasionally rule against the government: in February the Supreme Court in Luanda overturned a 2004 conviction of the editor of the independent weekly Semanario Angolense for defaming the president. Prisoners are commonly detained for long periods in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions while awaiting trial. Prison conditions are atrocious and life threatening; prisoners are subject to torture, severe overcrowding, sexual abuse, extortion, and a lack of basic human services.
Severe human rights abuses-including torture, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and extrajudicial execution-were perpetrated during the war by both sides. Though less frequently, security forces still perpetrate such actions. Displaced Angolans returning home have faced harassment, and police and security forces are rarely held accountable for shakedowns, muggings, rapes, or beatings. An estimated 4 million weapons in civilian hands threaten to contribute to lawlessness. In addition, Angola's lucrative diamond-mining industry continues to be beset by murders, beatings, and other human rights violations at the hands of government and private security forces. Such abuses became less frequent after the government mandated more humane methods in carrying out "Operation Brilhante," a recent campaign to curb illegal diamond mining that led to the expulsion of more than 120,000 Congolese and West African migrant miners. In January, the government established the office of the Justice Ombudsman as the national human rights institution, and former justice minister Paolo Tjipilica was confirmed for the post by the National Assembly. However, the government's failure to include civic actors in the process elicited protests from human rights organizations and civil society.
Eight provinces (about 50 percent of the country) contain areas that were heavily mined. At least 80,000 people have lost limbs to mines over the years.
Angolans have the right to own property. However, the government dominates the economy and the war discouraged the development of a private sector. Prospects look better with peace, and the government in 2003 passed legislation aimed at facilitating private investment. According to the U.S. State Department 2005 human rights report, the property rights of traditional pastoral communities lack adequate protection. Child labor is a major problem, and there were reports of trafficking in women and children for purposes of prostitution or coerced labor.
Women occupy cabinet positions and National Assembly seats. Nevertheless, despite legal protections, de facto discrimination against women remains strong, particularly in rural areas. Violence against women is widespread; spousal abuse is common. Women are often the victims of land mines as they forage for food and firewood.