Angola: Tyrannical Brutal State Apparatus Remains Intact

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Kinshasa — FOR almost four decades, Angolans have lived in a climate of fear under the oppressive and nepotistic rule of strongman Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Speaking against the administration was met with intimidation, imprisonment and enforced disappearance.

His announcement in February 2017 that he would be stepping down ahead of elections later that year was thus met with relief by a majority in this Southern African country of some 30 million people.

Under the administration of dos Santos, criticising the president and his administration of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was considered a crime against the security of the state.

Peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and journalists, were among those jailed for lengthy periods or forcibly disappeared without a trace.

Criminal defamation laws were used to intimidate particularly media and academics, while draconian legislation was used to justify arbitrary detentions of those who showed any form of resistance.

Hopes were raised thus high among the citizenry and human rights groups that a new leader would guide Angola out of the spiral of oppression that marred the brutal 38-year reign of dos Santos.

Joao Lourenco, the former defence minister elected as dos Santos’ successor with over 61 percent of the vote, even raised hopes of the restoration of human rights as he pledged to “govern for all Angolans.”

It was anticipated the new administration would ensure accountability for past human rights abuses, protection of freedom of the media and respect for freedom of expression, assembly and association as well as curtailing abuses by security forces.

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Such hopes have turned to despair as the same repressive state apparatus used by dos Santos to entrench his rule remain in place just over year after Lourenco came into power.

But such issues, which largely went unnoticed by the international community, have now caught the attention of the international community.

In recent weeks, the country has quoted global condemnation with the expulsion of over 300 000 refugees, including 80 000 children, that had settled in Angola after fleeing terror afflicting neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Security forces, long a perpetrator of violations against local civilians, have been accused of serious human rights infringements on the refugees, whose deportation has seen the country flout international law and African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, which forbid the mass expulsion of non-nationals without individual assessment or other due process guarantees.

The United Nations (UN) office of the High Commissioner for Human, has verified information about six deaths, reportedly at the hands of security forces but the number is lower than that actual toll. The office has also received other allegations of killings that it has not been able to fully verify. Reports also suggest at least 100 people were injured.

There have been reports of beatings, sexual assault and rape. Some victims have been robbed and homes were destroyed during the violent clampdown.

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Some acts of brutality have been captured on video, which have gone viral.

Infringements have been blamed on Angolan security personnel using excessive force in their operations to deport the Congolese nationals. Among victims are unaccompanied minors, pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Angola to halt the deportations until it can be assured that any returns would be carried out in full respect of the rule of law and the human rights of all affected migrants.

“I also urge the government to ensure that security forces and others responsible for violations in the course of these expulsions are held accountable,” she said.

Such pleas have fallen on deaf ears. The deportations continue.

While Angola argues the deportations target irregular immigrants, documented Congolese have also been expelled. These include civilians in possession of official permits to work in the sprawling diamond mines.

Angola also argues it is ensure national security and protecting its natural resources.

Thousands of Congolese refugees have fled a reign of terror by militia groups in DRC’s Kasai region and settled in northern Angola.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is concerned the refugees are back in harm’s way after deportations forced them back to a province that experienced disturbances in 2016 and 2017. Ethnic and other violence resulted in thousands of deaths and forced over a million people to flee.

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Some 50 000 people were at the time of publication trapped near the town of Kamako, on the Congolese side of the border, during the deportations.

Deportees are sleeping in the open, markets or in churches while impoverished locals have taken in others.

In the meantime, violations have persisted locally.

Media rights groups have condemned the decision by authorities to hold a trial of investigative journalists, Rafael Marques de Morais and Mariano Bras Lourenco, behind closed doors instead of in open court. The charges against the journalists relate to an article alleging corruption by former Attorney General João Maria de Sousa.

Police recently set dogs on protesters demanding justice for victims of torture and extrajudicial executions in 1977, under the administration of founding president, Agostinho Neto (late).

Rights groups said this was testament the repressive state apparatus remained intact in the resources-rich country.

“This crackdown shows that freedom of expression, association and assembly are still in danger in Angola. Authorities must stop targeting dissent,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director.

Under international law, Angola has a duty to impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute serious violations of human rights, said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, who said Lourenço had remained silent over the role of the military and police in serious abuses.

“Those responsible for serious human rights violations should not escape justice,” Mavhinga said.

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