Accessibility links

Angola Tells UN Human Rights Office to Leave Country

The UN Human Rights Office says the government of Angola has told it to close its office and leave the country by the end of May. UN Officials says the Angolan authorities have not explained the reasons behind this decision. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Human Rights headquarters in Geneva.

U.N. Officials say the Angolan government has broken off negotiations begun more than a year ago to sign a comprehensive agreement for human rights promotion and protection activities in Angola.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, says Angola is within its rights not to sign the so-called Memorandum of Understanding, which would have established the terms under which the UN could operate in the country.

"That said, we regret it," he said. "The High Commissioner, Louise Arbour, has said clearly she respects the decision, but she regrets it because, precisely, we feel there was still work to do in Angola."

Angola was devastated by a 27-year old civil war that ended in 2002. Hundreds of thousands of people fled into exile. The country's infrastructure was completely shattered. And, the rule of law did not exist.

The Human Rights Office has been in the country since May 2003 trying to increase awareness of the many human rights issues that need to be addressed.

Colville tells VOA the lengthy war destroyed much more than the infrastructure. It essentially destroyed the structures needed to run a society that is just and humane.

"The human rights of the civilians, the citizens in a country like that are usually in a very poor state by the time the war is over," he added. "So, that was the case in Angola. Human rights is a very legal based field. Human rights depend on there being good national laws that protect citizens. It then depends on people implementing those laws if they do exist. So, that involves training, that involves making sure police officers, people at very ground level actually understand what their obligations are according to international human rights standards."

Colville says creating well-functioning human rights institutions is a long process. He notes Angola still faces many challenges on the human rights front. He says it is a pity the U.N. office is not able to stay to help the country work through its problems.

He says the Angolan authorities have not completely shut the door. In early April, he says they told U.N. officials that their decision to close the organization's office does not mean they would no longer cooperate with the U.N. Human Rights office and human rights mechanism.