“COVID-19 does not affect us all in the same way”

Since the state of emergency declaration in March 2020 to deal with the spread of COVID-19, Angolan security forces in various provinces have resorted to unnecessary, excessive, abusive, and even lethal force to deal with infringements of public health measures. On 25 August, Amnesty International and OMUNGA, an Angolan human rights organization, reported seven killings committed by the Angolan security forces, including officers of the Angolan National Police (Polícia Nacional de Angola – PNA) and of the Angolan Armed Forces (Forças Armadas Angolanas – FAA).

Between March and September, Amnesty International and OMUNGA documented ten killings by the Angolan security forces, including officers of the Angolan National Police (Polícia Nacional de Angola – PNA) and of the Angolan Armed Forces (Forças Armadas Angolanas – FAA). The victims were Mário Palma Romeu – Marito, 14 years old, Altino Holandês Afonso – Hernani, 15 years old, Helena Sebastião Mussunda, 15 years old, Mabiala Rogério Ferreira Mienandi – Kilson, 15 years old, Clinton Dongala Carlos, 16 years old, João de Assunção Eliseu, 20 years old, António Vulola, 21 years old, Vanildo Sebastião Futa, 21 years old, José Quiocama Manuel, 25 years old and Sílvio Dala, 35 years old. The organisations believe the true death toll is likely to be much higher.

Popular discontent

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the impact of recurrent social and economic crises on the Angolan people, fanning popular discontent, In September 2020, the population took to the streets to protest the current government broken promises, and widespread hunger and poverty. The authorities responded with violence, with security forces using water cannons, rubber bullets, batons and tear gas to disperse the protesters.  On 11 November 2020, grassroots movements organised demonstrations against corruption and the high cost of living and called for municipal elections in several provinces of Angola. In Luanda municipality, as a result of severe injuries, one protester died, Inocêncio de Matos, a 23-year-old university student, and dozens were injured.

The use of excessive, disproportional and unnecessary force by the police is an old and widespread problem in Angola and local civil society groups have been raising this issue for many years. Rather than seeking dialogue with civil society representatives and protest leaders, the government has also continuously repressed the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Protesters, activists and human rights defenders have faced human rights violations, including ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention.

It’s time to end police violence in Angola

DEMAND JUSTICE FOR SEVEN YOUNG MEN KILLED BY SECURITY FORCES IN ANGOLA

The stories of how police brutally killed young people have a lot of similarities. They all show how reckless and unchecked the use of lethal force quickly led to the loss of the lives that security forces are meant to protect.

Their deaths are a painful reminder that a fair society is one where respect for life is the core principle regardless of the social, economic status, and political beliefs of people. The right to life simply must be respected. It’s a reminder for Angolan authorities that the ultimate aim of fighting the spread of COVID-19 is to save lives and protect livelihoods

It’s time to end the use of excessive, disproportionate, and lethal force by police. It’s time to end police brutality in Angola.

Join our supporters and members in calling for a prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation in all deaths and human rights violations due to police brutality in Angola.

Take action now to demand President João Lourenço to take all necessary steps to ensure justice and reparation for families affected by security forces’ excessive and lethal use of force.

Police response

The Commander-General of the PNA, Commissioner-General Paulo Gaspar de Almeida, has publicly committed to investigate and hold accountable all agents responsible for killing individuals during the implementation of COVID-19 regulations in 2020. Further to this, we urge the government of Angola to take concrete steps to cease the violation of the human rights by the Angolan security forces and implement systematic reforms to ensure the observance of laws, regulations and codes of conduct that regulate the functioning of the police in accordance to international human rights law and standards.

The Angolan association Mãos Livres is providing legal assistance to ensure that the human rights violations and abuses are promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigated, those suspected to be responsible for the killings are brought to justice, and that the families receive justice and effective remedies, including adequate compensation.

Angolan lives matter – a wave of protest

On 12 September, peaceful demonstrations took place in several Angolan provinces, including Benguela, Bié, Cabinda, Cunene, Kwanza-Sul, Huíla, Luanda, Moxico and Namibe. The protests brought together thousands of people across the country who demanded the end of police abuses in Angola, reform within the PNA and the resignation of the Interior Minister, Eugênio Laborinho, who had remained silent regarding the killings of teenagers and young men by the police. The demonstration took place peacefully, and no incident of violence was registered.

As social and economic crises continued to deepen in 2020, the current President’s popularity continued to decline. Frustrated with the precarious living conditions in the country, Angolans, particularly youth, took to the streets to protest peacefully and exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities have responded with excessive, unnecessary and indiscriminate force. Dozens of people have been arrested, many injured, with at least one death reported.

12 September peaceful demonstration, Luanda © Bwala midia
12 September peaceful demonstration, Luanda © Bwala midia

24 October Protest

On 24 October 2020, peaceful protests against the precarious living conditions and calling for municipal elections were met with police violence in the streets of Luanda and Huambo provinces. In Luanda, the Angolan National Police (Polícia Nacional de Angola – PNA) put up barricades to prevent protesters from gathering at the meeting point and arbitrarily arrested 103 protesters and by-passers, including journalists, mothers with children, and teenagers younger than 16 years old. 

The 103 protesters that were arrested faced a summary trial between 26 October and 1 November 2020. The Luanda Provincial Court convicted 71 people for the crime of “disobedience” and sentenced each of them to one-month in prison, converted to a fine. The protesters filed an appeal, and the Supreme Court is yet to decide on the case. Those who were arrested reported that while under police custody, they were transported from prison cells to the Tribunal in overcrowded cars, despite the risks posed by COVID-19, and spent their days in crowded cells that did not allow them to exercise physical distancing as required by public health regulations – ironically, the exact same reason that they had been initially convicted.

One day before the planned 24 October demonstrations, the President of the Republic issued the presidential decree number 276/20, in which article 29 prohibits gatherings of more than five people in the streets.

11 November National Protest

Following the thwarted demonstrations of 24 October, grassroots movements called for new demonstrations across the country on 11 November 2020 to mark 45 years of Angola’s independence. People took to the streets to protest against the high costs of living and to call for municipal elections in Benguela, Cuanza Norte, Huíla, Huambo, Luanda and Namibe provinces in Angola. 

In several provinces, the security forces closed roads and put up barricades to prevent people from assembling at meeting points. The security forces used water cannons, rubber bullets, batons and tear gas to disperse the protesters. Amnesty International and OMUNGA have received reports of isolated pockets of violence by some protesters in response to the hard-handed and indiscriminate use of force by the police. Several people were injured, and some were taken to the hospital, while an unknown number of people were arbitrarily arrested and released hours later without any charges. As a result of severe injuries, Inocêncio Alberto de Matos, a 26-year-old student of computer engineering at the Universidade Agostinho Neto, in Luanda city, died. The autopsy is yet to confirm the cause of his death.

On 10 November, as an attempt to prevent the planned protest from happening, the Angolan security forces arbitrarily detained youth activists involved in its preparations. The security forces arrested three youths in Cabinda municipality and another three in Balombo municipality, Benguela province. On 18 November, the Benguela Provincial Tribunal rejected the accusation for the crime of disobedience and ordered the release of the three youths, who were arrested in Balombo municipality.

Security forces caught on video after they shot 15-year-old Kilson

“The police are not on the ground to distribute sweets, nor to give chocolates.”

In times of emergency, it is crucial that Angolan authorities give consideration to the situation of people who are particularly at risk of being seriously affected by or are unable to comply with lockdown regulations, such as people living in poverty. The government must ensure that people are empowered and supported to comply with the required social distancing measures being enforced to contain the spread of the COVID-19 in Angola.

Amnesty and OMUNGA are concerned that the government has contributed to an increased environment of intimidation and violence in the streets of Angola. In this context, it is alarming that the justification given by the Minister of Interior, Eugênio César Laborinho, at a national press conference on 3 April of the police behavior was: “The police are not on the streets to distribute sweets, nor to give chocolates, they will act according to the behavior of each citizen or each gathering.”1 The Ministry’s social media publications also reinforced repressive messages.

While Amnesty and OMUNGA recognize the government efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Angola, it is also important to highlight that even in times of emergency, security forces may only use force that is necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate objective. Not to cause more harm than they are trying to prevent, the spread of COVID-19.

1DW, April 2020, Angola: “Polícia não está para distribuir chocolates”, diz ministro

Angola’s Ministry of Interior propaganda published on 30 March on its Facebook page – three days after the state of emergency entered in force. The message in the picture is the following: “We take care of the streets. Take care of your family by staying at home. Together in the fight against COVID-19.” © Ministério do Interior de Angola
Angola’s Ministry of Interior propaganda published on 30 March on its Facebook page – three days after the state of emergency entered in force. The message in the picture is the following: “We take care of the streets. Take care of your family by staying at home. Together in the fight against COVID-19.” © Ministério do Interior de Angola

“Working incidents”

Amnesty International and OMUGA have interviewed relatives, friends and witnesses of seven cases of murders by the Angolan security forces, including officers of the Angolan National Police (Polícia Nacional de Angola – PNA) and of the Angolan Armed Forces (Forças Armadas Angolanas – FAA) Marito was 14 years old, Altino was 15 years old, Clinton was 16 years old, Kilson was 15 years old, João was 20 years old, António was 21 years old and Cleide was 25 years old. Their families want justice, truth, and reparation. Our work is dedicated to families who lost their beloved ones in the hands of the Angolan security forces.

The issue of police use of excessive, disproportional, and unnecessary force is widespread in the country. The summary killing of young men by security forces in Angola has been raised by civil society for many years.1 The cases Amnesty International and OMUNGA present here are only symptomatic of systematic abuse of force by security forces in Angola. Amnesty International and OMUNGA received several reports from activists in different provinces and are still gathering information as the situation evolves in Angola.

[1] Rafael Marques de Morais, 5 February 2018, Angola’s killing fields – A report on extrajudicial executions in Luanda, available at

It was a work incident … the colleague accidentally fired, killing one of them.

Nestor Goubel, a spokesperson of the provincial command of the National Police of Luanda, referring to the killing of Cleide at a press conference on 13 July.

I told the police that my son’s assassination should not be in vain. When a person dies, there must be justice.

Marito’s mother

The Angolan government needs to do more and better

The government’s announcement recognizing the use of unnecessary and excessive force by the police is an important first step in addressing these human rights violations. We are calling for an immediate end to security forces’ use of unnecessary and excessive force, and for human rights violations to be promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigated, and for all those responsible to be brought to justice in fair trials. We are also urging Angolan authorities to guarantee that protesters can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are protected by the Angolan constitution and international treaties ratified by the country.

But there is also an urgent need for systemic reform within the Angolan security forces. Nobody should have to fear for their life when encountering the police, and the Angolan authorities must put in place accountability mechanisms to ensure prompt, impartial and through investigations of allegations of unlawful use of force by security forces. The government of Angola must implement systematic reforms to ensure the observance of laws, regulations and codes of conduct that regulate the functioning of the security forces in accordance to international human rights law and standards.

Recommendations

Amnesty International and OMUNGA will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Angola and urge the authorities to address this growing crisis. We urge the Government of Angola to:

· Take immediate and urgent steps to ensure that law enforcement officials stop resorting to the use of unnecessary and excessive force as a means of punishment at any time, including for violations of COVID-19 regulations;

· Immediately end police violence against peaceful protestors, end the practice of arbitrary dispersal of peaceful assemblies, stop detaining individuals before protests as a way to thwart demonstrations, and fully respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for all persons in Angola;

· End all criminal proceedings that have been initiated against individuals in connection with their attempts to exercise the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and where these proceedings have resulted in conviction and fines and/or imprisonment, quash the conviction and drop the fines.

· Take steps to promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigate allegations of the killings of young people by security forces while enforcing the COVID-19 regulations and dispersing protesters from streets, and ensure that all those responsible are held to account in fair trials;

· Adopt immediate and urgent measures to provide justice to the victims of human rights violations related to the government’s use of unnecessary and excessive force, including appropriate and adequate reparations for the families of the victims of police’s use of lethal force;

· Take immediate and urgent steps to empower and support people to comply with COVID-19 regulations, including by ensuring access to public health information and by enabling people who are marginalised to meet their essential needs without discrimination.