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Human Rights Committee considers the report of Angola

Human Rights Committee

8 March 2019

The Human Rights Committee today concluded its review of the second periodic report of Angola on measures taken to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Introducing the report, Francisco Queiroz, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Angola, said that during the 15 years of peace that had followed the devastating war that had lasted 27 years, concrete progress in civil and political rights was being achieved.  The legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights had evolved significantly; the revised Criminal Code, adopted earlier this year, sanctioned torture with one to six years of imprisonment, freedom of expression was guaranteed, the law on freedom of religion, belief and worship had been passed in 2019, and the law on the Office of the Ombudsman was being revised to ensure its conformity with the Paris Principles.  The key priorities were the fight against corruption, nepotism, and organized crime, the Minister said, mentioning specifically the operation Transparency launched in 2018 to combat illegal exploitation of diamonds and eliminate the sources of funding for international terrorism and armed groups.  The recently set up National Council for Refugees was responsible for refugee recognition and ensuring that the 65,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Angola were treated with dignity and respect for their rights.  A specialized department for domestic violence had been created in the courts, and measures were being taken to protect the rights of approximately 650,000 persons with disabilities, of which 44 per cent were women.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts commended the 2019 revision of the Criminal Code which had seen the introduction of specific section on discrimination and welcomed the more frequent application of the Covenant by the courts.  Recognizing that customary and civil legal practices coexisted for centuries, Experts asked how Angola was reforming its legal framework and bringing it in line with the Covenant, including in relation to practices of polygamy and early marriages, and abortion.  Did Angola plan to ratify the Second Optional Protocol, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, they asked.  The Experts raised concern that lenient sentences for the crime of torture could send a wrong message and stressed the importance of not tolerating torture and ill-treatment in any way.  In this vein, they raised the question of excessive use of force by the police, including the use of dogs, intimidation, and arbitrary detention of peaceful protesters.  Welcoming the prioritization of the fight against corruption, the Experts asked about the prosecution of high-level officials, whether new prosecutors had been employed to specifically address the corruption cases, and if a law on the protection of whistle blowers would be adopted.  In this context, they underlined the fundamental importance of an independent judiciary to the success in combatting corruption.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Queiro reiterated Angola’s commitment to continue to protect and improve civil and political rights.

Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee Chairperson, concluded by urging Angola to make progress on issues identified during the dialogue, including the financing for the Office of the Ombudsman, domestic violence, corruption, the death penalty, and early marriage.

The delegation of Angola consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Relations, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Municipality, Ministry of Interior, Office of the Attorney General, Civilian Office of the Presidency, and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of Angola to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Angola at the end of its one hundred and twenty-fifth session on 29 March.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Monday, 11 March, to begin its consideration of the third periodic report of Viet Nam (CCPR/C/VNM/3).

Report

The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Angola (CCPR/C/AGO/2).

Presentation of the Report

FRANCISCO QUEIROZ, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Angola, introducing the report, said that the national human rights strategy, developed in conjunction with civil society, was currently being discussed in the Government, with a view to its adoption.  A new impetus to the protection and promotion of human rights had been given with the inauguration of President Joao Lourenço in 2017, illustrated by a dialogue with the most representative organizations of civil society, the reduction in sentences or a release of a number of prisoners convicted of crimes against state security, and the launch of a study into the lack of good governance.  While much remained still to be done, Angola had made concrete progress in civil and political rights during the 15 years of peace which followed 27 years of devastating war, said the Minister.  Between 2012 and 2015, the human development index had increased by almost 9.5 per cent, reaching 0.581 in 2018, with concomitant increase in life expectancy from 44 years in 2000 to 61 today.  The legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights had evolved significantly with the adoption of the revised Criminal Code earlier this year, which provided for sentences of up to two years of imprisonment for a discriminatory act of any kind. 

The fight against corruption, nepotism, and organized crime was among the key priorities for Angola.  Efforts were being deployed to combat and eliminate discrimination against migrants and the negative perception of them, the Minister said, noting that although border management and migration was a challenge, Angola had never erected a physical barrier or obstacles to migration.  Some 161,000 foreigners were in the country legally; of those, more than 65,000 were refugees and asylum seekers, who were treated with dignity and respect for their rights.  The National Council for Refugees, an inter-ministerial body working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, was responsible for verifying the conditions for granting refugee status, and a Refugee and Asylum Reception Centre had also been established.  Angola had launched in 2018 an operation called Transparency to combat the illegal exploitation of diamonds and eliminate the sources of funding for international terrorism and armed groups.  The operation also helped the fight against organized crime, environmental damage, forced labour, and economic crime.  Recently, a group of citizens had taken advantage of the free exercise of the right of demonstration and expression to call for the independence of the Cabinda province, the Minister noted, urging all United Nations Member State not to encourage such acts. 

The courts applied international legal instruments, and Angola was revising the law on the Office of the Ombudsman to ensure conformity with the Paris Principles.  Women, continued the Minister, accounted for 42 per cent of the civil service, and of those, 35 per cent were in management positions.  A specialized department for domestic violence had been created in the courts, and measures were being taken to protect the rights of approximately 650,000 persons with disabilities, of which 44 per cent were women.  Abortion was criminalized except in cases where the physical or mental integrity of the woman was at risk, when the foetus was not viable, or when the pregnancy resulted from a crime against freedom and free sexual acceptance.  The Penal Code sanctioned torture with one to six years of imprisonment, freedom of expression was guaranteed, and the law on freedom of religion, belief and worship had been passed in 2019.  No journalist had been murdered for nearly a decade and there had not been cases of imprisonment for press offenses. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

Opening the discussion with the delegation of Angola, Committee Experts took positive note of the obvious improvements in the human rights situation in the country, and in particular commended the more frequent use of the Covenant in judicial procedures.  Praising the work of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Experts remarked on its limited involvement in dissemination of the information on the Covenant, and asked about its role in the preparation of the report and dissemination of the Committee’s concluding observations.  The Committee remarked that Angola had not implemented its views in the Diaz vs. Angola.

What was the exact number of civilian victims in the incident related to the Light of the World sect and had the perpetrators been prosecuted and sanctioned?

As far as participation of women in political and public life was concerned, the Experts asked whether Angola would harmonize the domestic legislation with the international criteria with electoral parity in mind.  The Experts commended the 2019 revision of the Criminal Code which had seen the introduction of specific section on discrimination, and asked if the provision on discriminatory practices was generally applicable or it only referred to the field of work.  What was the state of affairs when it came to stereotypes against children with disability and children with HIV/AIDS?  They further welcomed the decision to decriminalize same sex relations and asked the delegation to inform on the practical results of this important advancement.

The number of migrants had doubled over the past several years; was there a negative perception of migrants in the society and what concrete steps were being taken to address stigma and prevent the violation of migrants’ human rights?  The national action plan to combat domestic violence was showing positive results, the Experts remarked, asking whether it wold be extended and requesting information in investigations and prosecutions of violence against women.  Did Angola plan to ratify the Second Optional Protocol, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty?

The Committee was greatly concerned about the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country and inquired about the aims and measures contained in the newly adopted legislation on the matter.  What was the progress in clearing mines and unexploded ordnances from the country’s territory?

Experts remarked that customary and civil legal practices coexisted for centuries and inquired about the intentions to reform the legal framework and bring it in line with the Covenant, including in relation to practices of polygamy and early marriages.  They asked about the outcome of the national campaign to combat early pregnancy and marriages, whether the proposed legislation on abortion was in line with the Covenant, and measures in place to reduce the number of clandestine abortions.  Did Angola recognize the connection between the criminalization of abortion and the high rate of maternal mortality?

Combating corruption was recognized as a priority, Experts remarked, asking the delegation to provide data and information on prosecutions, especially those involving high political positions, and to inform on measures in place to address corruption in the police, health and justice sector.  Was Angola considering the adoption to a law to protect whistle blowers?  Were new prosecutors employed to specifically address the corruption cases and how were the links created between the prosecutors and police anti-corruption units? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation started their responses by highlighting that Angola was engaged in a development process and the building of human rights, and that changing certain cultural and societal attitudes that had a direct bearing on the enjoyment of rights under the Covenant was a slow and continual process.

The Office of Ombudsman was an independent and public body, with the Ombudsman elected by the two-thirds majority in Parliament.  All citizens could address the Office, including through the Office of Attorney General where the Ombudsmen was not present.  The Ombudsman was elected by the two-thirds majority in the Parliament.  A working group had been set up in 2018 to prepare the structural transformation of the Office of the Ombudsman into a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.

The conflict between customary law and civil law must be put in the context of the sociocultural realities, said the delegation, highlighting that the colonization had superimposed its own standards on those found in the countries.  Customary law had in fact remained in force and the challenge today was to lead policies that, while prizing universal positive law, safeguarded customary law.  A number of African countries were seeking to strike a balance in the coexistence of these two legal regimes, the delegation said, recognizing that there was, however, a limit to the recognition of customary law, which was the respect for the Constitution and human dignity.  This required a change in cultural values, which was a gradual and slow process that needed to be managed through education and awareness raising.

Only ten cases of early marriage had been registered over the past several years, said the delegation, adding that the Government was analysing a possibility of changing the law and raise the age of legal marriage from the current 16 years for boys and 15 for girls.  Public awareness campaigns were in place that aimed to convince the parents not to allow their children to marry early.
Angola strived to becoming a party to the Second Optional Protocol by the end of 2019. 

There were over 65,000 refuges and asylum seekers in Angola.  The National Refugee Council was in place, while an inter-sectorial committee dealt with the violation of their rights and conducted investigations in order to sanction the perpetrators.  The committee was also providing human rights and other kinds of training to the border agents that worked at the borders.  The delegation stressed that refugees and asylum seekers enjoyed the same rights as Angolan citizens.

The delegation further clarified that the case of the Light of the World sect was not related to religious freedom, for the sect did not meet the minimum requirements of a religion or a religious organization.  The State had acted to protect its people, a delegate said and added that the leader’s resistance during the police intervention had led to the death of nine policemen and 13 civilians.  Numerous people had been arrested and tried, with only ten individuals sentenced.  The appeals were currently before the Supreme Court.

Angola was committed to combatting violence against women, which would continue as one of the cornerstones of the country’s democratic development.  Serious cases of violence were punished by the courts, and victim protection programmes were available to those that were in danger.  The reform of provisions of the Criminal Code related to abortion had been a long-drawn process influenced by the prevailing religious beliefs, however, legal abortion was possible in three well-identified instances.

The new administration was combating corruption in a revolutionary and successful way, the delegation said, evidenced by the multiplication of cases handled by the justice.  Thus, the son of the former head of state was in prisoner, as well as former members of the Government, which until few years ago, was unimaginable.  Angola had asked for the extradition of its former President from Portugal, and it expected that the process would be successfully concluded.  More than 600 investigations for presumed corruption had been opened, and it was expected that trials would begin soon for high-level officials. 

With the support from the United Nations Development Programme, a plan to combat corruption had been developed.  A dedicated telephone line had been created to allow anyone to anonymously report corruption cases, and the conditions to ensure the fairness of tenders had been strengthened.  There were dedicated units for combating corruption in different parts of the Government, and active awareness raising for the general public on the subject of the negative impact of corruption on development of the country.  Furthermore, public prosecutors were autonomous and independent and were active in all the provinces.  The anti-corruption unit in the Office of the Public Prosecutor investigated high levels of prosecution, while the Criminal Investigation Services covered corruption on lower levels. 

Another high priority was the fight against HIV/AIDS, which with current prevalence rate of two per cent was among the lowest rates in southern Africa.  Angola supported the achievement of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS 90 90 90 target by 2020, to ensure that 90 per cent of people living with HIV knew their HIV status, 90 per cent of seropositive people receive continuous antiretroviral therapy, and 90 per cent of people receiving antiretroviral therapy have suppressed viral load.  The national plan to cut in half the mother-to-child transmission by 2020 was in place, and was aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.  In September 2018, a campaign sponsored by the First Lady to combat HIV/AIDS had been launched to further improve the situation in the country.

As for the Diaz vs. Angola case, the delegation advised Mr. Diaz to hire an attorney and pass on his complaint to the national justice system that would calculate the level of compensation.

With regard to the participation of civil society, the delegation explained that the Government had adopted a new strategy to resolve the previously conflictual relationship and to improve civil society involvement in all relevant areas.  A civil society forum had already been convened twice, the second having consulted interested organizations on the draft report to the Committee.

According to the law on political parties, women must represent at least 30 per cent of the candidates registered on the lists presented in the national elections.  Angola had acceded to the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development, which provided for a quota of 50 per cent, and wasfirmly committed to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).  The Government continued to examine ways of achieving electoral parity, in addition to raising the quotas.

Currently, women represented 37 per cent of the civil servants, 16 per cent of the secretaries of state, two of the 18 provincial governors, 30 per cent of Members of Parliament, 34 per cent of the prosecutors, 38 per cent of the magistrates of the seat, and 49 per cent of officials of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.  In addition, almost one in three lawyers is a woman.  In the long term, it is planned to replace quotas for women with criteria that better reflected their skills.  If men were in the majority in positions of responsibility, the situation should be reversed in the twenty years thanks to the fact that the level of education of the women continued to progress.  It might even be envisaged that a "matriarchal" society would ultimately be achieved, the delegation said.

The Khoisan were a nomadic community of some 14,000 people and one of the four major ethno-linguistics groups in the country.  The rural exodus, particularly of the young who went to cities in search of work, partly explained the declining numbers.  Priority actions to support traditional communities were included in the National Development Plan, while the 2019 budget earmarked funds for the purpose.  Most traditional communities were nomadic which added an additional layer of complexity to the challenge of ensuring access to basic services, health and education in particular.  Angola was running, on a pilot basis, mobile multi-sectorial teams that followed the communities on their routes and provided access to health, particularly for children.

Angola was among the countries most contaminated by anti-personnel mines, and was a signatory to the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of antipersonnel mines and their destruction.  More than five million explosive devices had been removed through the work of nearly 4,000 people, assistance was being provided to victims, and risk awareness activities were ongoing.  While mine clearance operations had been largely successful, there were still vast areas to be demined, the delegation said, reiterating the country’s firm commitment to destroying all anti-personal mines on its territory by 2025, in cooperation with local and international partners. 

The verification and mine clearance operations were carried out by the National Institute of Mine Clearance in collaboration with, inter alia, a non-governmental organization, but also with the army and the border police and with the cooperation of the inhabitants of various localities who have reported areas where the presence of mines is known or suspected.  The National Commission for the Disarmament of the Civilian Population run a small arms recovery programme, under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts raised concern that lenient sentences for the crime of torture could send a wrong message and stressed the importance of not tolerating torture and ill-treatment in any way.  They asked if psychological torture was criminalized, and how many state and security officials were investigated and prosecuted for torture.  Were the police interrogations recorded and could legal representatives could be present during interrogations? 

The Experts recognized the Government’s good will to improve the situation related to corporal punishment and that there were parts of the population that continued to practice this punishment.  Was corporal punishment specifically prohibited by the law?  Experts were concerned about the excessive use and length of pre-trial detention and wondered whether the lack of judges was one of the reasons.  Were pre-trial detainees kept separately from the sentenced detainees? 

The delegation was asked whether a child could be accused of witchcraft and how many children were being tried and detained on these grounds.

The Committee recognized the resent creation of the National Council for Refugees as the key body for determination of refugee status.  Was it fully operational and was there an independent appeal mechanism against its decisions?  It seemed that there had been a gap in the registration of refugees between 2013 and 2015, when the new law on asylum had been adopted, Experts remarked, asking about the status of refugees who had arrived during that period.  The Government had opened a new refugee settlement, however, the registrations had been closed in July 2017, leaving a number of individuals unregistered and, consequently, deported.  The delegation was asked to comment on the situation of refugees in the country and outline measures taken to ensure their access to employment and livelihoods, as well as to basic social services. 

Also, could the delegation explain in more detail the operation Transparency

Turning to judicial independence, the Experts asked whether there had been any prosecutions for judicial corruption and inquired about measures taken to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, given its fundamental importance to combating corruption.  What progress had been made in the reconstruction of regional and district courts and increase the number of courts in general?  Was access to free legal assistance effectively available in rural areas where no bar associations were present?

The Committee raised concern about the expropriation of traditional and pastoral land and asked whether minority and indigenous communities involved in decision-making concerning activities and projects conducted on their land?

The Experts commended Angola’s efforts in the area of trafficking in persons, victim support in particular, and urged it finalize the legal framework and to engage with non-state actors more widely.

On the right of peaceful assembly, Experts asked more detail about the legal framework concerning demonstrations, and especially the regulations governing the use of force, including the use of dogs, intimidation and the arbitrary detention of peaceful protesters. The Experts mentioned the alleged abduction, torture and murder of two citizens, António Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Cassule, by the security forces in May 2012, following the protest they had organized in Luanda, and asked whether the cases had been investigated and prosecuted, and sentences handed down.  Had reparations being paid to the victims’ families?

The Angolan media seemed to be largely controlled by the State and the ruling party, the People's Liberation Movement of Angola, while the social communication laws had been adopted despite the opposition from the Journalists' Union which saw in them limitations on freedom of expression.  Was defamation still a criminal offense?

Did non-governmental organizations experience delays in registration, and would the lack of registration impact their work? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that the sentences related to torture seemed fairly lenient but they were such due to the differentiation of the acts of torture.  There were no recordings made during interrogations due to technological limitations, but the detainees had the right to legal aid provided by the bar association.  Angola had signed the Convention against Torture in 2013 but not yet ratified it, said the delegation, stressing that the technical assistance and cooperation would enable the ratification of the Convention in the near future.

Pre-trial detention was fixed at four months, renewable for a period of two months, and was now only used in most serious crimes.  Pre-trial detainees were sometimes kept with the convicted ones.  The age of criminal majority was 16 years, and young people aged 16 to 21 were not imprisoned.  There were currently 24,411 detains in the country; and children who were in prisons were there with their mothers.  Witchcraft was not a crime and children were not prosecuted for it; in fact, they were the victims of the practice, especially in rural areas, where there were still beliefs that children could be bewitched. 

While no institution was completely immune to corruption, there was nothing to lead to a conclusion that there was endemic corruption in the judiciary.  There were individual cases, for sure, and all complaints were investigated and if necessary, prosecuted and sanctioned.  Judges and prosecutors went through a string training and education, and continues education was available on the current issues.  There was no criminal policy per se, said the delegation, noting that given the lack of resources, the Government had to prioritize certain actions and that was why it focused on combating corruption, money laundering, and combating discrimination, among others.  The public prosecution service was led by the Attorney General and was independent from the Government. 

In response to the question on the excessive use of force by the police, the delegation stressed that the principle of proportionality was enshrined in the legal framework.  The use of force had to be proportionate and any excessive use of force was investigated and prosecuted, including in the case of Mr. Kamulingue and Mr. Cassule.  In recent years, more than 1,300 disciplinary sanctions had been imposed on members of the Ministry of the Interior; nearly one-third related to abuse or inappropriate acts towards an individual. The National Police was the organization that had been sanctioned the most.

According to the 2014 census, 47 per cent of the people had not been registered, including 25 per cent of the children.  The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights had from 2013-2017 managed to register six million men and three and a half million women.  There were birth registration units in maternity wards and campaigns had been carried out to raise awareness of the midwives who worked in the rural area and performed births outside hospitals on the importance of birth registration, conducted in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund.

The registration of refugees was continued and ongoing; once a person was given a refugee status, she or he had the same status as the nationals, including access to employment, education, and other services.  No refugees and asylum seekers had been detained due to the lack of status. 

Angola was a party to the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children.  23 victims had been identified in 2018 and more than ten so far in 2019, and they were mainly women and children.  Victims were sheltered in social centres across the country.  In terms of prosecutions, ten of the 60 cases had been sentenced to date.

Responding to questions raised on the freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the delegation emphasized there was no attempt to censure the media outlets, illustrating this with the information that over the last 17 months, licences had been issued to seven media bodies.  Over the 2014 to 2016 period, the number of Internet users had almost doubled, from three to almost six million.  Public scrutiny of the work of the Government had also increased in the last 17 months, which was also a clear sign of the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.  The delegation stressed that everyone, journalist or not, was liable to prosecution for defamation, insult, or slander on the basis of two articles of the Constitution and the Penal Code, and could also be subject to disciplinary proceedings or be prosecuted in civil cases.  In 2018, a total of 43 demonstrations had been held, and none required a prior authorization.

Concluding Remarks

FRANCISCO QUEIROZ, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Angola, in his concluding remarks, welcomed such an open and detailed dialogue with the Committee and assured the Experts that Angola was determined to continue to protect and improve civil and political rights.

AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, concluded by praising the frank and open dialogue and expressed hope that, by the next review, Angola would make progress on a number of issues identified during the dialogue, including the financing for the Office of the Ombudsman and its presence throughout the country, domestic violence, corruption, the death penalty, and early marriage.

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