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  • Angola has a long way to go on human rights

    By ACTSA | December 12, 2016

    10 December was Human Rights Day. ACTSA’s Senior Campaigns Officer Sunit Bagree argues that Angola has a long way to go to improve human rights in the country.

    According to this year’s Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), Angola has improved in terms of participation and human rights over the past decade. Despite this, however, only Swaziland performs worse than Angola among Southern African nations. Indeed, there’s still a great deal to be concerned about when considering civil and political rights in Angola. If one also assesses economic and social rights in the oil-rich country, the picture doesn’t improve.

    When it comes to human rights, much of the international attention this year has focused on the 17 youth activists who, in June 2015, attended a meeting to discuss politics and governance concerns only to be arrested and charged with preparatory acts of rebellion and criminal conspiracy. In a trial that attracted widespread criticism both domestically and internationally, these activists were sentenced in March to terms of between two and eight-and-a-half years. Three months later they were released from prison into house arrest, and in September they were granted amnesty by the Supreme Court. However, all but one of the 17 activists reject the amnesty, saying that they want their convictions overturned.

    But this case, while undoubtedly important, is only one example of repression in Angola. For instance, this year has witnessed allegations of a wave of extra-judicial killings in the capital, Luanda, by state organisations, in particular the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC). One report, by the journalist and human rights defender Rafael Marques de Morais, claims that over 100 extra-judicial shootings took place from April to September alone. According to de Morais, government sources have said that this is the direct result of pressure from the Interior Minister on the SIC to crack down on crime.

    There are also real fears that five new laws relating to the media, known as the Social Communication Legislative Package, will seriously restrict the right to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch has argued that the laws provide ‘the government and ruling party expansive power to interfere with the work of journalists, and potentially to prevent reporting on corruption or human rights abuses’. The new laws, which were rushed through the National Assembly in November, give officials the power to raid the home or office of any person or organisation suspected of publishing information, even if this information is only published online (e.g. a social media post). Many journalists already engage in self-censorship, and this is only likely to increase as a consequence of the new laws.

    As for economic and social rights, drastic budget cuts (due to the sharp fall in the price of oil) over the past 15 months have resulted in outbreaks of diseases, shortages of essential medicines and huge increases in the price of basic food items. More broadly, the country’s leadership has largely failed to diversify the economy, and at the same time it has allowed corruption to thrive. Thus the strong economic growth experienced by Angola since the end of the war in 2002 hasn’t had a significant impact on the living standards of the vast majority of its citizens. Poverty and unemployment remained stubbornly high in the boom years. And some social indicators have been simply shocking for a long period of time, such as the country’s under-five mortality rate, which is actually now the worst in the world.

    In March, President José Eduardo dos Santos announced that he will step down from public office in 2018 after almost four decades in power. Some believe the President will not do this, especially if he thinks his interests will not be protected should he retire from public life. Others believe that his advancing age (he will turn 76 in 2018) and recent manoeuvring of close family members into key positions (two of his sons are on the central committee of the ruling MPLA and his daughter heads the state oil firm Sonangol) suggest that he will finally step down.

    Angola will hold national elections in 2017. Most expect the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) to win. It won the last election in 2012 with 72% of the vote. If President dos Santos is re-elected as President by the National Assembly (the President is not directly elected) will he step down in 2018? If so, his successor’s commitment to inclusive institutions and the full spectrum of human rights will go a long way in determining whether all Angolans can be genuinely free and achieve their potential.

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