Import Human Rights to Angola

Children living in the ruins of destroyed houses in Luanda, Angola.

Children living in the ruins of destroyed houses in Luanda, Angola.

Angola is experiencing a major revitalization as it slowly recovers from a devastating 27 year civil war that finally ended in 2002. The Africa Cup of Nations kicked off  (sorry for the soccer pun) this week: a biennial continent-wide tournament, and this year a rousing prelude to the World Cup occurring in June in South Africa. Angola is also one of the world’s top twenty crude oil exporters and a member of OPEC. This revenue stream elevates Angola’s stature as a major economic player both globally and in the region, as nations compete for Angolan oil exports.

These resulting economic ties also create political relationships. Stay with me, I am getting to my point, I promise. Angola ranks sixth in the list of countries importing oil into the United States. This means the US relies on Angola and Angola relies on the US. Thus each is in the position to influence the other on a whole host of issues. And so we have arrived: Angola is up in February for its turn under the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review (UN-UPR).

The UN-UPR is a process by which each member state’s human rights record is scrutinized by it’s peers. All member nations are subject to this review every four years, during which time other nations and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) can raise concerns, ask questions and make recommendations on how to improve human rights conditions. One of the concerns about the process, which has already played out during other state’s reviews, is peer nations won’t really raise the tough issues. Rather they lob soft balls (or maybe soccer balls?) for fear of damaging economic relationships or labeling as a hypocrit because of the peer nation’s own human rights record.

But it is the duty and responsibility of UN member states to hold each other accountable, and it is our onus as global citizens to make sure our governments step up to the plate. So we are calling on the US State Department to not go easy on Angola because we want it’s oil exports. Instead, we are demanding the US help ensure human rights are imported into Angola via the UPR process.

There are three major areas we call on Secretary Clinton to raise during the UPR process: forced evictions, the safety of human rights defenders and protections of freedom of expression and association. These are all areas of serious concern in Angola; people are rendered homeless for political and/or economic gain, human rights defenders experience repression and beatings as they work to hold the government accountable and journalists and citizens are imprisoned for speaking out and demanding positive change.

So stand up as a global citizen and encourage all UN member nations to not give Angola an easy pass under the UN-UPR next month and tell Secretary Clinton that the US must do it’s part! Economics is supply and demand. Instead of only demanding oil come out of Angola, let’s supply the tools to encourage human rights to come in!

Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola
Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana
Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau
SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Human Rights Flashpoints – October 20, 2009

What’s Up This Week:

  1. Afghanistan: Elections Run-Off
  2. Angola: Humanitarian Crisis
  3. Upcoming This Week

Afghanistan Elections – Take Two
On Sunday, the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) announced the results from its fraud investigations regarding the August 20th Afghanistan presidential elections.  The commission’s conclusions invalidated nearly one million votes cast as fraudulent, with 210 out of the 350 polling stations marred by fraud.  As a consequence, incumbent President Hamid Karzai’s margin of victory has diminished to below the 50% vote threshold necessary for an outright win forcing him to concede to a run-off election against opponent Abdullah Abdullah on November 7th.  SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Angola and DRC Shoving Match Leaves Citizens With Bruises

So it basically goes like this: Angola starts to kick out Congolese citizens living in Angola, almost 18,000 since July. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) says “for reals?” and shows a bunch of Angolan citizens to the door, well, border when it launches its own repatriation operation. So then Angola says “oh, yeah?” and increases the pace of expulsions of Congolese. The DRC says, “yeah,” and sends more Angolans over the border, approximately 28,000 since August. Angola says…well, you get the point.

Angola and the DRC have a long history of porous borders with refugees crossing back and forth escaping internal conflict, citizens looking for employment and best of all, politicians dabbling in each others internal conflicts. But the violence and disregard for the lives of those involved in this latest tit for tat is seriously uncool.

Angolan police, immigration officers, citizens and soldiers have been accused of beatings, sexual assaults and stealing the possessions of the Congolese they are expelling. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Slumming it in Angola

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

A woman sits in the ruins of houses destroyed in the Cambamba neighbourhoods of Luanda, Angola to make room for a luxury housing complex.

Luanda, Angola hosted World Habitat Day last year. UN Habitat’s Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka called upon President dos Santos to allocate 10% of Angola’s oil income to upgrading vital social services such as housing, plumbing, clean water and electricity and praised Angola’s stated commitment toward a slum revitalization program. Approximately 85% of Angolans live in slum conditions surrounding major cities.

In response, President dos Santos stated his government was waging “a sustained war against chaotic urbanization.” I would agree with that analysis. It certainly looks like a battleground when armed forces enter a neighborhood, raze houses, evict families and destroy their homes and belongings. Since 2001, Amnesty International has documented the forcible eviction of more than 10,000 persons from slum dwellings in Angola, often accompanied by violence including police indiscriminately firing their weapons and beating women and children. And the reason why these evictions have occurred? To facilitate urban development projects and the construction of luxury housing.

In April 2009, Angola announced the creation of a special fund to build one million houses over the next four years. That’s great. But three months later in July, three thousand families were forcibly evicted from the Luanda neighborhoods of Iraque and Bagdad, utterly demolishing homes and possessions.

“Armed police, soldiers and presidential guards arrived in both neighbourhoods at 3am on 20 July and ordered people out of their homes before bulldozers began to demolish the houses. The residents stood and watched as their homes were being demolished. Some of those who tried to stop the demolitions were beaten.”

Well, that’s a little awkward Mr. dos Santos. You say you are following up on your campaign commitment to provide housing because you are concerned about social unrest and then you have your government thugs throw families into the street in the middle of the night in winter, beating them up when they try to salvage a portion of their possessions and dignity. Seems like you might want to consider building those houses at a faster pace than the ones you are tearing down.

Help Human Rights Live in Angola. Stand Up Against Forced Evictions in Africa. Take action now.

Angola Releases POC Fernando Lelo

Journalist Fernando Lelo was released from prison on August 21st. Lelo spent nearly 2 years in prison, convicted by the Cabinda Military Court for crimes against the security of the State. Amnesty International considered Lelo a Prisoner of Conscience; convicted for his non-violent expression of criticism and opinion against the government of Angola. On appeal, the Supreme Military Court released Fernando and acquitted him of all charges, ordering his immediate release.

Amnesty International spoke to Fernando since his release, who thanked AI for all the work done on his behalf and encouraged us to continue to work for the release of other prisoners of conscience. In addition to Amnesty International speaking with Lelo once during his incarceration, he said that he knew of the continuing work Amnesty International was doing on his behalf while he was in prison through his lawyer and friends. Amnesty International USA also called attention to his case in its letter to Secretary of State Clinton prior to her visit to Angola in July. Thank you to everyone who took action on his behalf.

Angola, Meet Secretary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Angola today on the latest stop of her seven nation tour. Our Country Specialist Jen Ziemke contributed these comments regarding issues Secretary Clinton will hopefully address in her meetings with President dos Santos.

Since 2001, Amnesty International has documented thousands of families forcibly evicted from various neighborhoods in the Angolan capital of Luanda in order to make room for public and private housing projects. These forced evictions were typically carried out without due process of law, including prior notification or consultation and the ability to dispute the evictions in a court of law. Nearly all of the evictions were accompanied by excessive use of force. Officials specifically targeted poor families who had little access to the means of securing their tenure. Angola is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should honor its obligations to ensure its citizen’s rights to an adequate standard of living are protected.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos previously scheduled presidential elections for late 2009, but recent reports indicate these elections will be delayed again until at least 2010. Secretary Clinton must ensure that the US will be carefully monitoring the upcoming election process and demand that the elections to be held as soon as possible. Furthermore, President dos Santos must give all candidates and eligible parties equal access to media and campaigning and organizational resources, without fear of intimidation.

Whenever they take place, the elections will be the first presidential elections since 1992′s failed attempt that led to escalating violence and a resumption of civil war. The likelihood of violence is not as high as during that time, and it should be noted that in September 2008, legislative elections remained free from violence and were considered “generally credible.” Those elections, however, were marred by state-run media affording undue advantage to the incumbent party. Indeed the incumbent MPLA won over 80% of the vote.

Furthermore, reports that the freedom and security of human rights defenders, associations, and journalists is not being protected under the current leadership in Angola is of great concern. This is a good example of where Secretary Clinton can relay the message that, in order for the upcoming presidential elections to be considered valid in the eyes of the world, the treatment of journalists, advocates, student groups, human rights defenders and other members of civil society must improve.

The release of journalists like José Fernando Lelo from prison could also help bolster Angola’s human rights reputation. Lelo’s work is an example of a critical voice from civil society being silenced by the authorities. On September 19, 2008, Lelo was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment by a military court in Cabinda, Angola, after being convicted of crimes against the security of the state. Amnesty International believes his arrest and conviction were politically motivated, his trial unfair, and thereby we consider him a prisoner of conscience and call for is unconditional release from prison.

Humanitarian organizations operating in Angola also face uphill battles because their ability to operate is being infringed. In April 2008, the Director General of the Technical Unit for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, a government department, announced that the government would soon stop the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) “without a social impact”. In July he accused several NGOs of inciting violence and threatened to ban them: the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy (Associação de Justiça, Paz e Democracia, AJPD); Mãos Livres; the Open Society Foundation (Fundação Open Society); and SOS-Habitat. These organizations have been doing critical work in the area of civil society, forced evictions, and human rights and should not be subject to government intimidation.

Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to help change Angola’s future by correcting its human rights past. We’ll be watching…