International Criminology World

World : Africa : Angola

Angola has a history dating back to the Stone Age. Its early history referred to a mixture of cultures including Bantu's (the major ethnic group today) as well as migrant groups including the Lunda and Bakongo. Portuguese influence began in 1483. The Portuguese were primarily interested in profit from the slave trade rather than government. During its colonial rule, Portugal sent thousands of Angolans to Brazil, Portugal's other colony. However, Angola did not gain full control over Angola until the 20th Century. Then, Angola was subject to political repression and economic exploitation by Portugal. Ultimately a guerrilla war against the Portuguese was initiated in 1961. Three nationalist groups opposed Portugal. These included the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Independence was won in 1975, but only after elements of the Portuguese Armed forces staged a coup in Lisbon in 1974. Two governments claimed to represent the new nation in a scenario extending the cold war to Angola. The MPLA was backed by the USSR and Cuba. The MPLA was led by Agostinho Neto. Neto was succeeded by Jose Eduardo dos Santos (after the death of Neto in 1979). The FNLA/UNITA coalition was backed by some Western powers (including the United States) and South Africa, and led by Jonas Savimbi. The MPLA government was recognized throughout the world as the official government and has ruled the country since its independence from Portugal in 1975. The country's competing independence movements began a civil war immediately after independence, which lasted until the signing of the Bicesse Accords in 1991. In the late 1980s, UNITA was given military aid by the United States who demanded an end to Soviet assistance and withdrawal of Cuban troops. After negotiations between Angola, Cuba, South Africa, and the United States, Cuban withdrawal began in 1989. Subsequently, the government implemented programs of privitazation and under the Bicesse Accords, one-party rule ended with the passage of a new Constitution that legalized opposition parties and called for U.N.-monitored elections, which were held in 1992. President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of the MPLA won a plurality of the votes cast in an election that U.N. observers considered free and fair. UNITA, under the leadership of Jonas Savimbi, rejected the results of the vote and resumed the civil war. In 1994 in an effort to end the civil war, the Government and UNITA signed the Lusaka Protocol. This agreement called for the demilitarization of UNITA, the creation of a national army, the seating of a government of national unity and reconciliation, and the extension of state administration to areas formerly under UNITA control. The Government generally complied with its obligations under the protocol, although the conduct of the police and, to a lesser extent, military units in former UNITA areas drew widespread criticism. UNITA failed to comply with several fundamental aspects of the protocol. It maintained a significant military capability, and it refused to surrender to state administration the territory it held. At the end of 1998, fighting resumed between the Government and Jonas Savimbi's armed faction of UNITA. A faction of UNITA called UNITA-Renovada and another larger peaceful faction of UNITA both rejected war. During the year, the two groups continued to pursue their goals through peaceful political activity, including as members of the National Assembly. In late 1999, a massive offensive by the Armed Forces of Angola (FAA) destroyed the conventional military capacity of UNITA, and by January 2000, had driven the rebels from their heartland on the central plateau into the country's far east and into scattered pockets elsewhere. By August 2000, the FAA had consolidated its military control of most of the nation's territory; however, UNITA reorganized itself as a guerrilla force and carried out ambushes or attacks on lightly defended targets throughout the country. During the year, UNITA launched a series of attacks against civilian targets; however, these attacks decreased after September 11, reportedly by a direct order from Savimbi. Fighting continued until the death of Savaimbi, who was ambushed by government troops in 2002. This resulted in another peace agreement and a pledge to demobilize UNITA'S troops.


The economy of Angola has performed poorly, and despite abundant natural resources, output per capita has been extremely low. Annual per capita GDP has been approximately $450 (13,500 kwanza). The country produces more than 750,000 barrels of oil per day, a total that is expected to rise to more than 1 million by the end of 2002. Due to its control of oil revenues, the parastatal oil company Sonangol plays a dominant role in both the economy and government. The country has produced an estimated $600 million (18 billion kwanzas) worth of diamonds in the areas controlled by the Government. There also are lucrative untapped mineral, agricultural, and hydroelectric resources in the country. The Government has begun to liberalize its import regimes and reform its regulatory agencies to allow the more efficient importation of the goods and services upon which the economy depends. Despite some economic reforms, corruption and mismanagement are pervasive in the public sector and widespread in the private sector. The country's wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small elite who often used government positions for massive personal enrichment, and corruption is a common practice at all levels. The average monthly salary of urban wage earners (approximately 20 percent of the labor force) has been far below what is required for basic subsistence. Rural wages are even lower because the majority of the rural economy is dependent on subsistence agriculture and is highly vulnerable to the political unrest in the country. As result of some 20 years of civil war, an estimated 3.6 million Angolans became refugees, many living in Namibia and other neighboring countries. Poverty and disease are widespread throughout the country, with an estimated 100,000 Angolans suffering from malnutrition.


The armed faction of UNITA has been responsible for numerous, serious abuses; the other two factions of UNITA were not responsible for abuses. The armed UNITA forces, under the control of Jonas Savimbi, were responsible for killings, disappearances, torture, rape, and other abuses. UNITA military units reportedly pillaged rural areas, depopulated parts of the country, killed traditional leaders, and eliminated all opposition, real or potential. The sexual abuse of women conscripted to work as porters was common in UNITA areas. UNITA troops committed numerous killings during attacks on villages. Interviews with many refugees indicated that UNITA committed abuses, including public executions, as a deliberate policy. UNITA increased attacks against population centers and other civilian targets during the year 2001. Prior to September 11, 2001 UNITA had conducted eight major attacks against civilian targets during the year. This was part of a strategy that likely was designed to create insecurity and draw international attention. UNITA abducted numerous persons during the year; many, including children, died or were killed while in captivity . UNITA killed numerous civilians during attacks on civilian traffic on roads in the interior of the country; such attacks were designed to halt transportation, disrupt commerce, isolate populations, and maintain a climate of insecurity. The U.N. and domestic human rights organizations report that abuse of suspects is universal in areas remaining under UNITA control. Interviews with persons who have fled UNITA-held areas revealed that UNITA uses cruel and inhuman practices, including public torture, to punish dissent and deter further acts of disloyalty. Torture is used at all levels by the UNITA forces. There have been repeated credible allegations that UNITA president Jonas Savimbi ordered suspects tortured and executed in his presence. There were reports that UNITA engaged in reprisal attacks on civilians during the year. UNITA reportedly cut off the ears and hands of civilians in order to extract information and to discourage civilians from providing the Government information on UNITA or from fleeing to government-controlled areas. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., UNITA attacks against civilian targets significantly decreased, reportedly as a result of a direct order from Savimbi.


Angola does not publish prison figures or data on rates of crime; however, qualitative statements have been made about the incidence of crime in Angola by the United States Department of State in its travel advisories. Murder, theft, corruption, and diamond smuggling are frequent crimes. During the civil war, UNITA captured the majority of Angola's diamond mines. Diamonds were illegally produced and smuggled to Zaire and Antwerp by UNITA. The diamond smuggling operation served as a chief source of UNITA'S money, arms, and fuel to fund its guerilla struggle against the MPLA government. Today, travel within Angola remains unsafe due to bandit attacks, undisciplined police and troops, low-intensity military actions, and unexploded land mines in rural areas. Violent crime occurs regularly throughout Angola. Street crime is common in all areas of Luanda, at all hours. Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been the targets of violent robberies in their homes and hotel rooms. There is a high incidence of armed robberies and carjackings. Police officers, often while still in uniform, frequently participate in shakedowns, muggings, carjackings and murders. Luanda airport personnel often perpetrate scams. Immigration and customs officials sometimes detain foreigners without cause, demanding gratuities before allowing them to enter or depart from Angola. Airport health officials sometimes threaten arriving passengers with "vaccinations" with unsterilized instruments if gratuities are not paid. Angola is also a transshipment point for cocaine and heroin en route to Western Europe and other African countries. Available evidence, though fragmentary, indicates that the crime rate in Angola is rising. Smuggling, particularly of diamonds and timber, is frequently reported as a major criminal offense, occasionally involving senior government and party officials. Dealing in illegal currency is another common crime. Endemic production and distribution problems and shortages give rise to embezzlement, pilfering, and other forms of criminal misappropriation. The enormous extent of this problem is indicated by an official estimate in 1988 that 40 percent of imported goods did not reach their intended consumers because of the highly organized parallel market system.


Prior to 1991 following a Cuban-Soviet model, internal security responsibilities in Angola were distributed among the ministries of defense, state security, and interior, plus the People's Vigilance Brigades. As mentioned above, Angola changed to a multipartite democracy in 1991, with consequent reorganization of policing responsibilities. Currently, the Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security, a function that it exercises through the Angolan National Police (ANP), the Rapid Intervention Police (PIR), which was created in 1992 as an elite paramilitary force, and other organs of state security. The FAA are responsible for protecting the State against external threats and for counterinsurgency operations against UNITA and have intervened in regional conflicts every year since 1996. The FAA also is involved in similar operations, although on a smaller scale, against the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda-Armed Forces of Cabinda (FLEC-FAC). The FAA claimed that it had integrated more than 12,000 UNITA soldiers since the 1999 fall offensive. The civilian authorities maintain effective control of the security forces; however, there were some instances in which the security forces acted independently of the Government, primarily because of poor discipline and participation in the conflict. Security forces have committed serious human rights abuses. Members of the security forces committed extrajudicial killings, were responsible for disappearances, and tortured, beat, raped, and otherwise abused persons. Security service personnel frequently employed torture and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment, including rape. Police used torture and coerced confessions frequently during investigations and rarely, if ever, were punished for such abuses. Those suspected of ties to UNITA sometimes are detained under inhuman conditions and are subjected to brutal forms of interrogation. Nonpolitical criminal suspects also are subjected to detention and abuse, although to a lesser extent. There have been no cases in which an army or police official has been disciplined for the use of excessive force against a UNITA suspect. Police often beat and released suspects in lieu of trials. Police frequently participate in shakedowns, muggings, and carjackings. Police also extorted money from travelers at checkpoints and routinely harass refugees. Impunity is a serious problem. There have been reports that government forces raped women in the central highlands. Government forces reportedly have attacked women in their homes, while they were working in the fields, near military camps, and during searches of homes. Verification of these reports was extremely difficult, particularly those emanating from remote areas and those areas affected by active combat. The Government often has failed to pay the salaries or to supply necessary provisions to the majority of its security forces, which contributed to the harassment and abuse of civilians as security forces tried to obtain supplies. The poor discipline and poor working conditions of the military made it the worst offender; police units generally had better discipline and a more effective chain of command. Other than those personnel assigned to elite units, the Government gives tacit permission for security personnel to supplement their income by the extortion of civilians.


Arbitrary arrest and detention are serious ongoing problems, and persons are often denied due process. Under the law, a person caught in the act of committing a crime may be arrested and detained immediately. Otherwise, the law requires that a judge or a provincial magistrate issue an arrest warrant. Arrest warrants also may be signed by members of the judicial police and confirmed within 5 days by a magistrate. The Constitution provides for the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention. Provisions for bail exist in the law. Under the law, the prosecution and defense have 90 days before a trial to prepare their case, although both sides generally have the right to request an extension of this deadline under extenuating circumstances. The Constitution also provides prisoners with the right to receive visits by family members; however, such rights frequently are ignored in practice. Although the Ministry of Justice is nominally in charge of the prison system, the Ministry of the Interior and the security forces continued to arrest and detain persons systematically, arbitrarily, and secretly for all categories of crimes and for indefinite periods, often with no apparent intent to bring the detainees to trial. Under the criminal law a person may not be held for more than 135 days without trial. The National Security Law provides for a maximum of 180 days of preventive detention. Preventive detention is allowed when an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime punishable by a prison sentence or is caught preparing to commit such a crime. In practice laws regarding preventive detention frequently are ignored. Partly in response to international criticism of abuses of preventive detention, the Government promulgated an amnesty law in 2000 that includes national security crimes, defamation, military crimes, and most common crimes . The release of thousands of petty criminals as a result of the law eliminated thousands of cases from court dockets; however, problems with preventive detention persisted. Court cases often become backlogged in judges' offices. In Luanda for example, 5 judges are responsible for an estimated 900 cases each year. There are only 187 magistrates to handle cases throughout the country; the Attorney General has recommended a total of at least 1,500 magistrates to handle the country's cases. Approximately 90 percent of inmates in Luanda are awaiting trial, and it is believed that more than 50 percent of inmates nationally were awaiting trial. Delays of 2 or 3 years are common. Poor communication between the various authorities also leads to prolonged detention.


The legal system of Angola is based on Portuguese civil law system, socialist law, and customary law. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary, where it functions, is not independent of the President and the MPLA, and political pressure from the presidency affects the outcome of cases. The President has strong appointive powers, including the power to appoint Supreme Court justices without confirmation by the National Assembly. The judicial system largely was destroyed during the civil war and did not function in large areas of the country. In many cases, police beat and then released detainees rather than make any effort to prepare a formal court case. Prior to 1991, the court system was described as following the Cuban-Soviet model. The Ministry of Justice oversaw the nation's court system, which included the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, people's revolutionary courts, and a system of people's courts. High-level judges were appointed by the minister of justice. The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals heard cases involving national officials and appeals from lower courts. People's revolutionary courts heard accusations related to national security, mercenary activity, or war crimes. They presided over both military and civilian cases, with senior military officers serving in a judicial capacity in military cases. Appeals were heard by appellate courts in each provincial capital. People's courts were established in the late 1970s by the National Court Administration of the Ministry of Justice as part of a nationwide reorganization along Marxist-Leninist lines. The people's court system comprised criminal, police, and labor tribunals in each provincial capital and in a few other towns. The MPLA-PT Political Bureau appointed three judges--one professional and two lay magistrates--to preside over each people's courtroom and assigned them equal power and legal standing. Although the professional judges had substantial legal training, lay judges were appointed on a rotating basis from among a group of citizens who had some formal education and several weeks' introductory legal training. Some were respected leaders of local ethnic groups. No juries are empaneled in either civil or criminal cases, but judges sometimes sought the opinion of local residents in weighing decisions. The Supreme Court served as the appellate division for questions of law and fact. The Ministry of Justice administered the civil legal and penal systems, although its jurisdictional boundaries with the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the regional military councils were unclear. The civilian court system, known as the People's Revolutionary Tribunal (Tribunal Popular Révolucionario), was established in 1976 to deal with capital offenses against national security. These courts had jurisdiction over crimes against the security of the state, mercenary activities, war crimes, and so-called crimes against humanity, and they could unilaterally assume jurisdiction over any criminal case that had a significant impact on national security. Such tribunals, composed of three to five judges, were established in each provincial capital but administered by a national directorate in Luanda. In 1983 military tribunals were set up in each military region and empowered to try crimes against the security of the state, including alleged offenses committed on behalf of UNITA such as terrorism, espionage, treason, sabotage, destabilization, and armed rebellion; "economic crimes" such as speculation, hoarding, and currency violations; disobedience of directives from the regional military council; and other acts that might "damage or endanger the interests of collective defense and security." The independence of the judicial structure and process was severely circumscribed by political control of the court system and the fact that the judges of the military tribunals were military officers whose appointment, reassignment, and removal were controlled by the minister of defense. Military courts frequently handed down death sentences, which were usually carried out by firing squad. Although persons sentenced to death by military courts were legally entitled to automatic appeal to the Armed Forces Military Tribunal, the highest military court, such appeals were not known to have been lodged. This previous court structure is subject to change as result of Constitutional reforms begun in 1991. Today, the Constitution provides for judicial review of constitutional issues by the Supreme Court until the Constitutional Court is established after a new constitution is promulgated. There are long delays for trials at the Supreme Court level. Trials for political and security crimes are supposed to be handled exclusively by the Supreme Court; however, there were no known cases of such trials. The Constitution provides defendants with the presumption of innocence, the right to a defense, and the right to appeal. Legal reform in 1991 established the right to public trials, a system of bail, and recognized the accused's right to counsel; however, the Government does not respect these rights in practice. The lack of trained attorneys in remote parts of the country has forced defendants in such areas as Lunda Sul and Moxico to defend themselves during trials. Trials are open to the public; however, each court has the discretion to close proceedings arbitrarily. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. Judges usually are lay persons, not licensed lawyers. The judge and two lay persons elected by the full court act as the jury. In January, 2001 a domestic research institute conducted a survey with the Attorney General's office in which 65 percent of the survey population reported a lack of confidence in government institutions to protect their rights. In the past, UNITA established a nominal military and civilian court system in territories under its control and claimed that its Civil Code is equivalent to the Portuguese Civil Code used by the Government; however, there was no indication that UNITA maintained this system. There were numerous confirmed reports that UNITA held political detainees and prisoners. It is not known if persons detained by UNITA were convicted by UNITA judicial procedure; decisions made by UNITA courts had no standing under the country's legal system, and persons were denied due process protections.


Prison conditions are harsh and life threatening. Cells are overcrowded and lack basic sanitary facilities. The ministries of state security and interior reportedly have administered penal institutions, but their respective jurisdictions are unknown. The principal prisons are located in Luanda, where a maximum security institution was opened in early 1981, and in several provincial and local jurisdictions. The main detention centers for political prisoners are the Estrada de Catete prison in the capital and the Bentiaba detention camp in Namibe Province. The government-run detention center at Tari in Cuanza Sul Province is identified as one of the main rural detention centers. Tari is a former sisal plantation turned into a labor farm, where prisoners live in barracks or in their own huts while doing forced labor. In 1983 it was reported that Tari's prisoners included those already sentenced, awaiting trial, or detained without trial as security risks. Political reeducation, once an integral element of rehabilitation, is not widely or consistently practiced. In the past, foreign advisers, principally East German and Cuban security specialists, assisted in operating detention centers and in training Angolan state security service personnel. Elsewhere, East Germans were reported to be in charge of a political reeducation camp. According to the National Prison Service Director, there are 4,000 persons in prison, 50 percent of whom are in prisons in Luanda. The prison system holds approximately five times the number of prisoners that it was built to hold. Many prisons, lacking financial support from the Government, are unable to supply prisoners with adequate food and health care. There are credible reports that many prisoners have died of malnutrition and disease. For example, at the Viana Prison malnutrition and disease are pervasive problems. In November 2000, the Government and the National Assembly Committee on Human Rights acknowledged that conditions were inhumane and announced modest appropriations for improvements in the Sao Paulo Prison hospital in Luanda and Viana prison outside the capital; some physical improvements were made during the year. Committee members visited both institutions and donated mattresses and other supplies to the inmates. Prison officials routinely beat detainees. Prisoners depend on families, friends, or international relief organizations for basic support, including food; prisons often do not provide any food to prisoners. Prison officials, who are chronically unpaid, support themselves by stealing from their prisoners and extorting money from family members. For example, prison guards frequently demanded that prisoners pay for weekend passes that they are entitled to receive. Juveniles, often incarcerated for petty theft, are housed with adults and suffer abuse by guards and inmates. Female prisoners are held separately from male prisoners. There are reports that prison guards sexually abused female prisoners. Detained journalists also are housed with other prisoners. Political prisoners and pretrial detainees are held with the general prison population.


Domestic violence against women is widespread. Credible evidence indicated that a significant proportion of homicides is perpetrated against women, usually by spouses. The Ministry of Women and Family deals in part with violence against women, and the Government continued its project to reduce violence against women and improve the status of women. Domestic violence is prosecuted under rape and assault and battery laws. Rape is defined as a forced sexual encounter and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; the law treats sex with a minor as nonconsensual. However, an inadequate judicial system obstructs investigation and prosecution of such cases. As stated above, there are allegations of rape by government forces in the central highlands. During the year 2001, four FAA soldiers were convicted of the rape of a pregnant woman. They were tried first in a military court and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment; a civil court subsequently sentenced them to the maximum 20 years punishable for the offense. There were also reports of rape by UNITA forces.


The UNICEF in 1998 estimated that there were approximately 5,000 street children in Luanda; some were orphans or abandoned while others ran away from their families or government facilities that were unable to support them. Living conditions in government youth hostels are so poor that the majority of homeless children preferred to sleep on city streets. Street children shine shoes, wash cars, and carry water, but many resort to petty crime, begging, and prostitution in order to survive. The government-sponsored National Institute for Children was established in the late 1980's to enforce child protection, but it lacks the capacity to work adequately with international NGO's. The institute reported that in a sample from Catchiungo, the number of street children assisted by the institute doubled from 7,890 in 2000 to 14,000 during the year, and that more than 90 percent of these children suffer from malnutrition. An international NGO that works with street children estimated that there are 500 to 1,000 underage prostitutes in Luanda. There are no laws that specifically prohibit child prostitution; however, child prostitution is prohibited by a general criminal statute. The age of sexual consent is 12 years, and any sexual relations with a child under 12 years of age is considered rape. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 can be considered sexual abuse. There are no laws specifically against child pornography; however, pornography is prohibited statutorily. The Ministry of Family and Women's Affairs enforces and oversees special family courts, and the National Institute for Assistance to Children has daily responsibility for children's affairs.


The Constitution prohibits human bondage, although no legislation exists to enforce this position. There are reports that Angolans are trafficked to the United Kingdom for labor exploitation and that women are trafficked to South Africa. There also continue to be allegations that UNITA has abducted persons, including children, for forced labor and military service, and abducted women for use as sex slaves. There were credible reports that UNITA forcibly recruited children into its military. In July the Government implemented measures to register children to protect them against potential trafficking. The Ministry of Social Reinsertion (MINARS) worked with UNICEF and NGO's to provide treatment and housing for freed children. For example, in March 2000, 42 children who had been separated from their families were traced and reunited.


Internet research assisted by Florentina Acosta and Chris Aquilante

Criminology Links
Diamond Smuggling
Incidence of Crime
Legal System
Juvenile Justice
Human Rights

Other Links
Online literature
Travel tips
International criminal justice agencies
Legal system
News and media
Correspondent email addresses
Give Feedback
Distance learning courses
Comparative criminology-related sites

A Comparative Criminology Tour of the World
Dr. Robert Winslow
San Diego State University