Angola: Activists' Abuse Exposes Angola's Sham Pledge to Peace

Luanda — ANGOLA, despite purported willingness to engage in peace-building and stability around the world, the southern African nation is in its backyard violating the same human rights principles it pledges adherence to.

Violations persist despite a new administration in power.

Testament to this flagrant disregard of international regulations is the continued repression of human rights defenders (HRDs), particularly the proponents of the independence of the northern Cabinda region, where separatist groups have been advocating for self-rule over the past two decades.

Activists aligned to the Independence Movement of Cabinda (MIC) cite marginalisation by successive governments in the Southern African country, despite the region producing 60 percent of crude oil.

The volatile area is sandwiched between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Congo Republic but is internationally recognised as part of Angola.

The smallest of Angola's 18 provinces, with a population of 400 000 people, Cabinda was the scene of clampdowns by the administration of then-president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, until he bowed out of power in 2017.

Angolan citizens faced high levels of repression of their freedoms of expression and association under his iron-fisted rule.

Absurdly, in 2016, as it held the presidency of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, Angola stated a commitment to promote peace and stability.

At that time, José Marcos Mavungo, a human rights defender and member of the government-banned human rights organisation, Mpalabanda Associação Civica de Cabinda, was jailed.

The deprivation of liberty followed the dos Santos' government banning the organisation which was the only human rights organisation active in the region.

Current president, Joao Lourenco, was sworn into office in September 2017 after winning elections on a campaign premised on pledges to reform the country's reputation and adhere to human rights issues.

He presented himself as a modest leader dissimilar to his iron-fisted predecessor dos Santos, who ruled for 38 years.

Among the major highlights was the adoption of the National Strategy on Human Rights (2018-2022).

However, Lourenco's administration, which promised to uphold these liberties, stepped up the crackdowns. Yet, the Angolan constitution provides for participatory democracy and encourages the participation of civil society in solving national problems.

"Despite the political change and the increased engagement with civil society organisations, there is still much to be done to guarantee an enabling environment for HRDs in the country and to provide accountability for past violations," Front Line Defenders stated.

In the most intense assault, law enforcers arrested over 60 MIC activists alongside their family members between late January and early February this year in Cabinda.

The arrests dispersed peaceful protests advocating for the autonomy of Cabinda.

Charges slapped against the activists include public disturbance, rebellion and criminal association. The pro-independence activists were arrested ahead of celebrations of the anniversary of the signing of the 1885 treaty that gave Cabinda the status of a protectorate of former colonial master, Portugal.

This was the latest in a series of campaigns against pro-Cabinda activists.

Human Rights Watch documented the arrest of 13 separatists in August last year. They were freed after courts ruled a meeting they were plucked from was legal.

It is against the backdrop of these onslaughts by government that human rights organisations have urged the international community to call Angola to order.

Front Line Defenders is among organisations appealing to member states of the UN Human Rights Council to urge the Angolan government to prioritise the protection of HRDs.

The organisation called upon the UN body to ensure Angola implemented recommendations pertaining to human rights and HRDs by multilateral bodies in a transparent and participatory manner.

This includes the full involvement of human rights defenders at all levels, especially regarding the ratification and implementation of international human rights treaties.

Front Line Defenders is advocating for the strengthening of measures to enable effectiveness of state institutions working in the protection of human rights defenders.

Its submission focused on the situation for HRDs and journalists in Angola, covering developments from October 2014 to March 2019.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also expressed concern about Angola's compliance with its international human rights obligations since its previous Universal Periodic Reviews in 2010 and 2014.

Zenaida Machado, HRW researcher for Africa, urged authorities to respect citizens' rights to peaceful protest.

"Angolan authorities need to stop treating Cabinda activists as enemies of the state," she said.

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