The security forces used excessive force to impose COVID-19 restrictions and dozens of people, including children, were unlawfully killed. Human rights defenders were arrested for disseminating health information and distributing masks and hand sanitizer to Indigenous communities. The rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association were restricted and activists faced arbitrary arrests and detentions. Commercial farmers colluded with government officials to forcibly evict agro-pastoral communities from their land, undermining their rights to food, water and housing. The government failed to guarantee the right to food for low-income families during the nine-month lockdown period.
In February, international media disclosed the “Luanda Leaks” which revealed how former President dos Santos’ daughter embezzled state funds in offshore bank accounts. In October, President Lourenço said that his predecessor’s administration illegally withdrew US$24 billion from the country through fraudulent contracts with state oil and diamond companies. Also in October, the Public Prosecutor confiscated assets worth billions of dollars which had been acquired fraudulently by the former President’s military generals and his Vice-President.
Economic and social conditions worsened amid the groundswell of pressure from youth who demanded that the President fulfil his promise, made during the 2017 electoral campaign, to create 500,000 jobs, and protests against the high cost of living.
On 27 March, the government introduced a state of emergency which was followed by natural disaster regulations to address the COVID-19 pandemic. These remained in force until October and were used to impose arbitrary restrictions which undermined human rights. Lockdown measures restricting movement between provinces continued at the end of the year.
Right to food
During the nine-month lockdown period, the government failed to guarantee the right to food, especially in low-income neighbourhoods where most people depended on the informal economy for their livelihoods, for example by selling goods in the streets and daily markets.
The authorities took punitive measures against those in poor neighbourhoods who were forced to leave their homes in search of food, an act which was criminalized under the state of emergency rules. While the government introduced a food relief programme for those living in poverty, families in the Luanda and Benguela provinces said they were not properly informed about who qualified for the aid or how the government decided which communities should benefit.1 Rural communities in the south were also disproportionately affected by food shortages as a result of the ongoing drought.
The security forces used excessive force to impose restrictive COVID-19 measures which resulted in dozens of deaths. Most of those killed were young people, the youngest being a 14-year-old boy, and were from poor neighbourhoods. In many cases, Angolan National Police (PNA) and Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) officers were responsible.2
On 17 June, PNA officers stopped 20-year-old João de Assunção for not wearing a mask in the Palanca neighbourhood. He offered to get his mask but the officers ordered him to perform acrobatics at gunpoint. When he said he was tired and ill, an officer fired into the air next to his head causing him to fall. Neighbours told the officers that João de Assunção suffered from a heart problem and hypertension. The police took him to Hospital Cajueiros, where he died the same day.
On 3 July, the police shot and killed 15-year-old Mabiala Mienandi in Luanda province. At around 7am, he was playing soccer with friends. Witnesses said a police vehicle approached and, without warning, officers shot at the boys who ran for cover. Mabiala Mienandi was hit by a bullet, after which three policemen got out of their car and kicked him three times before driving away.
The next day, police officers shot 16-year-old Clinton Dongala Carlos dead as he returned from dinner at his aunt’s house in the Cacuaco municipality, Luanda province. According to witnesses, two FAA and three PNA officers pursued him and one of them shot him in the back.
On 13 July, José Manuel was shot dead in street in the Prenda neighbourhood at around midnight. He and his 16-year-old friend, Maurício, heard local people shouting that the police were coming and while they were running away, a police officer fired at them hitting Maurício in the shoulder and killing José Manuel instantly.
These cases and others were under police investigation at the end of the year. No findings or information as to the progress of investigations were made public and impunity for such crimes remained widespread.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
Those deemed to have flouted the COVID-19 restrictions, including political activists and human rights defenders, were subjected to arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture or other ill-treatment.
On 2 April, nine human rights defenders from MBATIKA, a local civil society organization, were distributing information about COVID-19 and essential protective products like soap and sanitizer, to the San Indigenous people and other traditional communities in Cuando Cubango province. Police beat them with batons and threatened them with guns before arresting them. They were released eight hours later without charge.3
On 4 April, police beat 10 men in the street in Buco-Zau municipality, Cabinda province, and arrested them. Local people said that seven of them had been on their way to buy food. They were initially held together in one cell in poor conditions and released without charge at various points between 5 and 7 April.
Freedoms of expression, association and assembly
The authorities continued to repress the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Cabinda province. Political activists and human rights defenders were harassed, beaten and arbitrarily detained. From September onwards, people regularly protested against widespread hunger, poverty and the high cost of living. Authorities responded with unlawful force, with security forces using water cannons, rubber bullets, batons and tear gas to unlawfully disperse the protesters.4
On 28 June, plain-clothes police officers physically assaulted, arbitrarily arrested and detained Maurício Gimbi, President of the Union for the Independence of Cabinda (UIC), and André Bonzela, Director of the UIC President’s Office, at a taxi stop in Cabinda city. Some days before, they and their colleague, João Mampuela, UIC Vice-President, had displayed leaflets in Cabinda city bearing the slogan “Cabinda is not Angola” and calling for an “end to the right to bear arms”.
On 29 June, the police searched João Mampuela’s home at 5am and arrested him after finding UIC leaflets. Charges brought against the three men included “rebellion”, “criminal association” and “outrage against the state”. In September, the Cabinda Court granted André Bonzela bail of 300,000 Angolan kwanza (US$350), a sum which he could not afford, and he remained in detention. Maurício Gimbi and João Mampuela were refused bail on grounds of prior criminal records. The records related to their participation in a peaceful demonstration in 2019 after which they had been charged with “outrage against the state” and “public disturbance and resistance”, among other trumped-up charges. The men remained in detention in Cabinda Province Civil Prison at the end of the year.5
Diversion of land use in favour of business, mainly in the southern province of Huíla, continued to devastate local pastoral and peasant farmer communities. Large scale farming landowners, as well as local authorities, blocked local communities from accessing their farmlands and diverted their water supplies to force them from their land. Civil society organizations who lodged formal complaints with the government, or took other action to try and halt evictions, received no response. The authorities failed to carry out meaningful consultations with the affected communities or to provide them with compensation or reasonable alternatives. Consequently, families were forcibly evicted from their land, denied their livelihoods, seriously undermining their rights to food, water, housing and health.
In August, a spate of land diversion moves affected families. A commercial farmer initiated an extrajudicial process to evict the community of Kamphanda, a remote village in Gambos municipality, from their communal land. He coerced illiterate residents to sign over their land using their fingerprints.
In the same month, the Communal Administrator for Cainda, Quipungo municipality, made an order for communal agro-pastoral land farmed by local families to be fenced off and handed over to another commercial farmer. When residents protested, the local authorities threatened them with imprisonment.
Local government officials colluded with farming businesses to evict the Cuvangue communities from their land in the Matala municipality, in order to privatize areas of the Cunene river, blocking the communities’ access to water.
The water company, Água Preciosa, began an unlawful process to force the Tyihonguelo community, in Lubango municipality, from its communal land, home to hundreds of families, obstructing the canal that supplied their water.
By the end of the year, the government had not acted to protect communities from forced evictions, or to protect their rights to basic necessities.
- Southern Africa: Governments must move beyond politics in distribution of COVID-19 food aid (Press release, 6 May)
- Angola: Witnesses describe horrific killings of teenagers by police (Press release, 25 August)
- Angola: Activists prevented from distributing COVID-19 essentials (AFR 12/2146/2020)
- Angola: Authorities escalate use of excessive force to crack down on dissent (Press release, 8 December)
- Statement on the Continued Detention of André Bonzela, Maurício Gimbi and João Mampuela and the Human Rights Situation in Cabinda, Angola (Joint statement with Advancing rights in Southern Africa and Human Rights Watch, 6 October)