Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Angola: Torture in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda

By Katie Mattern - IPS

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS)
www.ipsnewsasia.net and www.ipsnews.net

WASHINGTON, Jun 22 (IPS) - A new report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) Monday calls for the Angolan government to end the arrest and torture of suspected rebels in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda.

The report, "‘They Put Me in the Hole’: Military Detention, Torture, and Lack of Due Process in Cabinda," details the increasing wave of violence against people in Cabinda by the Angolan armed forces and state intelligence officials.

Angolan forces are accused of arresting at least 38 people between September 2007 and March 2009 for state security crimes. HRW reported that "most were subjected to lengthy incommunicado detention, torture, and cruel or inhumane treatment in military custody and were denied due process rights."

"The Angolan armed forces are committing serious human rights violations in Cabinda," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at HRW. "Angola’s security concerns do not justify torturing people or denying them their most basic rights."

HRW collected details on the human rights abuses taking place in the enclave through its own interviews with 20 detainees at a civilian prison at Yabi in Cabinda. The group also learned about the abuse by Angolan officials through court documents, in addition to other, unidentified sources.

The Angolan government has been arresting individuals who it believes are linked to the Liberation Front of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), a separatist guerilla movement that has fought for independence of Cabinda, first against Portuguese colonial rule and, since 1975, against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government in Luanda.

Cabinda, which is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, is separated from Angola by a narrow strip of land belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Those detained, according to the HRW report, were arrested as a part of military raids of Cabinda’s interior villages after alleged attacks by FLEC guerrillas. The detainees were charged for their alleged involvement in these attacks and have experienced abuse at the hands of military officials.

One detainee told HRW how he was abused by military officials in Caio, a city along the coast just north of the regional capital, Cabinda. "They took me – tied up – to the military garrison in Caio and put me in a hole full of water," he said. "I stayed there for 19 days... I insisted I was innocent."

The report also charged that most of the evidence presented by the prosecution against the detainees had been obtained while they were undergoing torture. The report said that the defence attorneys were not given access to the evidence, denying detainees the right to a fair trial.

HRW is calling for the government to "drop all cases brought against citizens based on unlawful confessions, such as those obtained under torture... Torture is prohibited by international human rights law at all times, and international due-process standards prohibit confessions obtained under duress from being used as evidence."

The report added that the Angolan government should "ensure that the armed forces promptly transfer individual detained for security crimes to the competent civilian authorities, hold them according to international standards for pretrial detention, and provide a prompt and fair trial. The government should investigate all allegations of serious human rights violations by members of the military and intelligence services, and prosecute alleged perpetrators."

In the new report, HRW also details the case of Fernando Lelo, a former Voice of America (VOA) correspondent who was convicted of national security crimes in September 2008 and is currently serving 12 years in prison. HRW called his trial "unfair" but underlined that his treatment was typical for lesser-known prisoners, as well.

The report lists 32 current detainees who have been arrested on similar charges, six of whom had been convicted and sentenced to 12 or 13 years when the report went to press.

At the same time, it welcomed a number of recent improvements implemented by the Angolan government, including the trial other detainees by a civilian court. Four detainees were acquitted in May 2009 for lack of evidence.

"A court acquittal for lack of evidence is a positive sign, but unless the tortured detainees receive compensation and the military officials responsible are punished, there is little to guarantee against future abuses," Gagnon said.

"The Angolan government should promptly review the unfair conviction of Fernando Lelo and his co-accused, ensure full due-process rights to those accused of state security crimes, and provide effective remedies to the victims of torture."

Angola is the second-greatest producer of oil in Africa, and Cabinda houses a large number of these oil fields off its coast. The province is home to Cabinda Gulf Oil Co, a majority share of which is owned by U.S.-based ChevronTexaco.

During most of Angola’s lengthy civil war, U.S. oil companies operating in Cabinda were protected by the government’s military forces despite the fact that Washington was supporting the Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), a guerrilla group that was fighting to overthrow the MPLA government.

The government signed a peace deal with one FLEC leader in July 2006 after ceasefire negotiations in Congo-Brazzaville under which the province was promised autonomy, but another faction based in Paris denounced the accord and has continued to carry out sporadic attacks.
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