ANGOLA: From Theory to Practice It’s Time to Guarantee the Capacity of Human Rights Defenders to Act

Urgent Appeal
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The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), carried out a fact-finding mission in Angola, from April 21 to May 1, 2013, to analyse the context in which human rights defenders are operating in the country. The mission delegation met with, amongst others, members of human rights NGOs, journalists, lawyers, artists, along with representatives of national authorities, political parties and foreign diplomatic missions. The first-hand testimonies gathered during the mission and the analysis thereof reveal an environment marked by the persistence of hindrances to the ability of human rights defenders to carry out their activities freely, despite an avowed commitment from the Angolan authorities to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with civil society on human rights issues.

10 years after the end of a 30-year long war which claimed one million lives and left one-third of the population displaced, while Angola is benefiting from a fruitful oil exploitation and growing political influence on the regional and international scenes and despite the recent adoption of legal and institutional reforms to guarantee respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, multiple human rights challenges are yet to be addressed to laying the foundations of democracy and the rule of law in the country. In a socio-political context still marked by the prevalence of widespread poverty, endemic corruption and marginalisation of the opposition, Angolan human rights defenders are facing different kinds of obstacles preventing them from monitoring, documenting and denouncing human rights abuses in a satisfactory manner.

The mission gathered numerous testimonies from human rights defenders, including journalists who are systematically subjected to judicial and administrative harassment, threats and various forms of restrictions to their freedom of association, expression and/or assembly, in particular when they raise “sensitive” concerns on issues such as governance, access to justice, corruption, forced evictions, exploitation of natural resources or the situation in the Cabinda province. The mission delegation also collected information on the evolution of and difficulties faced by the youth movement that emerged in early 2011, calling for the end of a political system based on patronage, inequalities and lack of transparency. Structural impediments to the work of human rights defenders were also raised during the mission. The NGO registration process remains complex, costly and opaque and the NGO sector is crippled by a lack of human resources and financial sustainability.

Furthermore, according to the information collected during the mission, the judiciary is perceived as an institution subservient to political direction, influence and pressure, that does not effectively play its critical role in the defence, protection and enforcement of fundamental rights and freedoms. This bodes ill for the proper and effective operation of human rights defenders.

“Angola is facing tremendous human rights challenges which require the involvement of all relevant actors. Human rights activists have a key role to play in the process to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Yet, despite the declared willingness of Angolan authorities to abide by their national and international human rights commitments, information collected during our mission depicts an environment marked by a persistent distrust of dissenting voices, a context we consider to be detrimental to the building up of a strong and sustainable civil society”, declared Justice Thomas Masuku, who headed the mission delegation.

The Observatory will soon release a full mission report on the situation on human rights defenders in Angola with specific recommendations to the authorities, aimed at guaranteeing the rights of human rights defenders in the country.

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