Human Rights Victory in Angola!!

Billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team.

Billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team.

Today, four persons incarcerated in Angola were released from prison following a decision by the Attorney General their conviction was based on outdated legislation. Francisco Luemba, a lawyer, Raul Tati, a Catholic priest, and two others were convicted in August under a 1978 statute of the crime of “other acts against the security of the state” over an attack on the Togo national soccer team in the Cabinda region of Angola. Amnesty International declared them prisoners of conscience.

Luemba and Tati were members of the now banned human rights organization Mpalabanda and for many years publicly criticized the Angolan government and the Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda State FLEC – an armed group fighting for secession of Cabinda. FLEC claimed responsibility for the attack on the Togo national soccer team. Cabinda is a sliver of land between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo. The region is internationally recognized as part of Angola and produces a substantial part of the country’s oil exports.

“Cabinda’s public prosecutor confirmed that the men have now been released and reunited with their families.”

Amnesty USA called on activists since August to take action to secure these men’s release as Amnesty believed their conviction was based on both an unfair trial and legislation violative of international human rights norms. You took up the candle and passed it along. Thanks to your efforts, these men are free today. Once again, Amnesty activists, YOU ROCK!!

When Even Terrorists Say "You Suck!"

Photographers sit beside a billboard showing portraits of the victims of an attack on the bus carrying the Togo national football team, ahead of a ceremony in Lome on January 15, 2010. EMILE KOUTON/AFP/Getty Images

Four men were convicted in Angola early last month for “crimes against the state” based on a purported involvement in the January terror attack against the Togo football team in Cabinda Province. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), who claimed responsibility for the attack as part of its on-going separatist campaign, promptly denounced the convictions. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good sign how you are running your country when a terrorist group has a stronger moral compass on a human rights issue…

In January 2010, Angola hosted the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament. On route to the opening games, the Togo national team was fired upon by armed rebels in the Cabinda province, killing three people. Cabinda is a small spit of land separated from the northern territorial borders of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is rich in oil and struggled with a separatist movement for many years now.

The four men, including Prisoners of Conscience Francisco Luemba and Raul Tati, were sentenced to between three and six years’ imprisonment by the Cabinda Provincial court. Luemba and Tati are members of the now banned human rights organization Mpalabanda. They are long-standing critics of both the government and FLEC. Police arrested both men shortly after the January attack. Francisco Luemba and Raul Tati were found with documents on Cabinda and had recently attended a conference aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the situation in the troubled region.

All four activists have been convicted of violating article 26 of the Angolan Law of Crimes against the Security of the State, which gives the authorities power to class any act as a crime. Help us tell the Angolan government these men must be released unless they are charged with a recognizable criminal offence and guaranteed a fair trial. Maybe the members of FLEC will also take this action and send a letter to the Angolan government…

Southern Africa To Be One Country

Bono, South X' New Head of State

Bono, South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand's new Head of State

I was very excited to read today that ten countries in southern Africa decided to join forces, eliminate borders and become one country. This will make it easier for many Westerners who already think the continent of Africa is just one country; or at least think all the countries are exactly the same and therefore propose the same “one size fits all” solutions over and over again to mostly Western created problems.

Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Angola will now be called South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand. Recognizing this will be a challenge to fit on business cards, government officials have declared its ok to just call this new nation South Africa, since before the union it was the only country most Westerners could reliably find on a map.

It was quite a struggle to decide how this new nation would be governed, and there were points where it became quite ugly when dos Santos and Mugabe descended into vicious name calling, as both men are accustomed to longevity as heads of their prior respective states.  In the end, after many rounds of rock/paper/scissors, it was concluded that Bono would lead this new nation forward because it was felt to be the best way to secure debt relief, HIV funding and better coverage in People/US/OK magazine.

For similar reasons; Madonna will be Minister of Education (sorry to all those people who can now expect to lose their homes so she can build more schools), Oprah will be named Cultural Minister (her new talk show will launch in 2012), Brangelina will be appointed co-Ministers of Internally Displaced Persons  (expect lots of fighting between them and Madonna over those displaced for Madonna’s new schools as well as the best photo opps with their adopted children) and Mariah Carey will be Minister of Agriculture (good luck on that starvation diet Mariah!)

One of the first acts of this new nation will be to set up a large lion preserve to promote the image that lions roam free in the streets throughout Africa. Also, media relations will assure that news coverage focuses predominantly on anything bad happening in the region with an emphasis on promoting negative stereotypes, while ignoring positive stories. In particular, media will assure that any stories about the many amazing Africans working to improve conditions within their new nation will continue to rarely be printed because pictures of sad children are considered the only way to get people to care and stories of Africans helping themselves will discourage other celebrities from traveling to region for photo opps and establishing charitable organizations in an attempt to seem less self-absorbed.

Within Amnesty USA, the Southern Africa Co-group welcomes this new nation because it means much less work for us. It was getting very tiresome to lobby ten different governments about human rights conditions. Now, we only have to pester Bono. Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day.

Soccer, Terrorism, Repression and Constitutions in Angola

Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos

Angolan president Eduardo dos Santos

The new decade started off with a bang in Angola-literally. Fireworks exploded in the night sky at the opening games of the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament on January 10th; and, sadly, gunfire shattered the day as the Togo soccer team was attacked on their way to participate in the tourney.

The attack on the Togo national team occurred at they traveled through the Cabinda province. Cabinda is a small spit of land separated from the northern territorial borders of Angola by the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is rich in oil and struggled with a separatist movement for many years now. Those who live in the region wish for autonomy and there is an armed rebel faction, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), that claimed responsibility for the attack on the Togolese team.

However, there are many individuals in the Cabinda region engaging in peaceful measures to demand autonomy. Journalists, lawyers, priests and citizens argue for the right of self determination. The Angolan government has harshly suppressed these individuals, denying them right of free expression and association by dispersing peaceful protests, arresting individuals and banning organizations. One journalist, Fernando Lelo, was imprisoned following an unfair trial because of his criticisms of the president.

In the wake of the Togo bus attack, the Angolan government has used anti-terrorism policies as an excuse to crack down further on peaceful activists in the region. Francisco Luemba, a prominent lawyer and former member of banned human rights organization Mpalabanda, was arrested on January 17th and charged with crimes against the state. Mpalabanda, the only human rights organization previously operating in Cabinda, was banned in 2006 following charges that the organization incited violence and hatred.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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.