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.
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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 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 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.
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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.