Syria Genocide War Crimes

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Angola Human Rights

Forced Evictions

Amnesty International USA

On World Habitat Day, Amnesty International called for the end to forced evictions in Angola. A forced eviction is the removal of people against their will from the homes or land they occupy without legal protections and other safeguards.

The Angolan capital Luanda hosted UN World Habitat Day in October 2008. The same month a construction company forcibly evicted at least 17 families and demolished their homes in the Iraque neighborhood of the city.

More than 10,000 families in Luanda have been made homeless after being forcibly evicted from their homes since July 2001. These evictions have been carried out by police officers, soldiers, municipal officials and private security guards, often using excessive force and firearms. Police have on some occasions also arrested and briefly detained those resisting the evictions and members of the local housing rights organization, SOS-Habitat, who were trying to persuade the authorities to stop the forced evictions.

Most recently, around 3,000 families were forcibly evicted from their homes in the adjoining neighborhoods of Iraque and Bagdad in the Kilamba Kiaxi municipality of Luanda. The families' homes were demolished, their possessions destroyed, and they were left without shelter. The demolitions, which took place between 20 and 26 July 2009, were carried out at an unprecedented scale and left Bagdad completely flattened and Iraque partially destroyed. Those still in Iraque endure threats of forced eviction.

Armed police, soldiers and presidential guards arrived in both neighborhoods 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. None of those evicted will be re-housed or compensated, according to the Luanda Province Vice-Governor. He claimed that residents of Iraque and Bagdad had occupied the land and built their houses illegally, in an area earmarked for development projects. Private consortium Projecto Camama is expected to build a luxury housing complex on the land.

Few families involved in any forcible evictions in Luanda have been compensated for their losses. Some were re-housed about 30 to 40 kilometers from the city in areas lacking jobs, schools, hospitals, basic services and sanitation. However, the vast majority have been left to fend for themselves. Many have been the victims of repeated forced evictions and hundreds of families remain without shelter, living in the ruins of their former homes.

The end of the 27-year-long civil war in 2002 brought new opportunities for development and reconstruction which increased pressure on urban land. Most of Luanda's estimated population of 4.5 million remain at risk of losing their homes to make room for up-market housing, offices and infrastructure projects. Forced evictions to make way for such development have targeted the poorest neighborhoods and affected families that are among the least able to assert their rights and seek recourse from the justice system. Left to fend for themselves, families must construct makeshift shelters or share already-overcrowded accommodation with family or friends elsewhere.

Mass evictions around Luanda are typically carried out without prior notice, let alone consultation. In the cases documented by Amnesty International and local human rights groups, police and other government officials carried out forced evictions and house demolitions without eviction orders. Even when families are notified about an eviction, they have no meaningful opportunity to challenge it. In one case in Luanda?s Cidadania neighborhood in April 2006, for example, the municipal administration ordered 12 families to vacate their plots within 48 hours. The notice alleged that the families were illegally occupying land reserved by the state for industrial purposes, but it did not explain how the families could refute this. Residents told Amnesty International they had purchased the land from the municipality.

Government officials often justify forced evictions by claiming houses targeted for destruction are illegally built on land owned by the government and earmarked for development projects. In fact, the legal situation in most cases is not so straightforward. Land use is governed by several sets of laws, and those that deal with urban areas have been only partially implemented. But Angola does have some very clear international obligations, including giving people adequate notice of any proposed evictions ? the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing recommends at least 90 days. Force should only be used when strictly necessary, and then only in a manner that is proportionate to the circumstances. The government has publicly acknowledged that Angola's land law obliges it to compensate - whether by money, materials or alternative housing and land - those who are subjected to expropriation of land for public interest.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has indefinitely delayed presidential elections that were scheduled for late 2009; they will be the first presidential elections since 1992's failed attempt that led to escalating violence and a resumption of civil war. Amnesty International will be carefully watching and monitoring the upcoming election process.

While the government's human rights record showed improvements in a few areas since the end of the war in 2002, it remained plagued by other serious problems, including rapid urbanization and corruption. In September 2008, legislative elections remained free from violence and were considered ?generally credible.? However, the elections were marred by state-run media affording undue advantage to the incumbent party. Indeed the incumbent MPLA won over 80% of the vote. The ruling party has held the levers of power since independence from Portugal in 1975, and does not appear to be ceding its tight, centralized control over government planning, media, and policymaking anytime soon.

Amnesty International is especially concerned about the arrest and detention of associational groups, journalists, human rights defenders, and students, among others. The treatment of journalists, advocates and other members of civil society must improve in order for the upcoming presidential elections to be considered valid in the eyes of the world.

Fernando Lelo Freed!

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. On September 19, 2008, José Fernando 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 believed his arrest and conviction to be politically motivated, his trial unfair, and thereby considered him a prisoner of conscience and called for his unconditional release from prison. 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.

Police Brutality and Prison Conditions
Amnesty International's report, Above the Law: Police Accountability in Angola, documented instances of police brutality in Angola. For example, on 2 September 2005 a group of police officers went to the house of Domingos Maurício. They reportedly entered and searched the house without a warrant, claiming that Domingos Maurício was hiding weapons. Although they found no arms, they arrested him. He was taken to a police unit. On the night of September 4, his family received a call from the police station informing them that Domingos Maurício had died. The family reported that they found his naked body on the floor of the cell, with cuts all over and covered in blood. The police reportedly claimed that he had died of tuberculosis. However, an autopsy revealed that he had died from traumatic shock from a blow from a heavy object. Despite this revelation, the police commander of the division refused to retract the police version of events. According to reports, the commander general of the police nevertheless paid certain expenses, including paying for a coffin, two 25kg bags of rice, beans and 20 liters of oil, in return for the family's "silence".

Amnesty International has reported on Angola's poor prison conditions in two reports, Lundas: The stones of death. Angola?s deadly diamonds: Human rights abuses in the Lunda provinces, and Operation Kissonde: The Diamonds of Humiliation and Misery. A prison rebellion in 2008 led to unconfirmed numbers of casualties, most likely due to the uncommonly harsh and overcrowded conditions in Angola's prisons.