JOHANNESBURG — Angola's main opposition party is calling for a mass demonstration Saturday to protest the abduction, torture and killing of two activists last year. Human Rights Watch has obtained what they say are authentic leaked documents implicating officials in the killing and is calling for the government to hold the officials accountable.
Angola has been simmering politically for the last two years, as the nation has seen a series of mostly small-scale protests against President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who has ruled since 1979.
The country's top opposition party is hoping to turn up the heat on the president, following allegations that government forces were responsible for the disappearance and death of two political activists.
The Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, has called for mass protests on Saturday after reports surfaced linking the domestic intelligence service to the abduction, torture and killing of the two activists in May of 2012.
The two had been conducting a campaign to get unpaid benefits for war veterans.
Leslie Lefkow, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division, says the details in the leaked documents match what her organization has been reporting in Angola.
“... the short version is that they were abducted by police intelligence forces in Angola, and they were held, tortured and eventually killed, each of them, within a couple days of their abduction, and the bodies disposed of. And these allegations are shocking, but in a way they are not surprising because Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented disappearances, particularly detention and torture, of individuals in politically sensitive cases in Angola for many years," said Lefkow.
The government has not denied the reports, and has in fact announced an investigation and arrested four officials. Last week, the president dismissed the head of the intelligence service.
Despite this, UNITA is calling for Dos Santos to step down over the affair.
Dos Santos’ party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, accuses UNITA of trying to provoke unrest. The parties fought each other during a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002.
Elias Isaac, the Angola country director for pro-democracy group the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), says Angola’s current problems go back more than a decade, to the war.
“So what happened in 2002 is that one side won the war and subjugated the other. And what is happening right now is the ruling party that has won the war now is repressing all dissenting voices. So the issue of political intolerance, the issue of national reconciliation, the issue of a pluralistic democratic society isn’t a reality in Angola, because there has been no reconciliation process in this country," said Isaac.
Isaac accused the ruling party of lacking the political will to address the needs of Angola’s poor and to democratize the country. He proposed a solution, and urged Angolans to push for it.
“What Angola needs right now is new political leadership to take this country forward," he said.
HRW's Lefkow is calling on protesters to keep their demonstration peaceful, and urges the government to show restraint. She also says that the international community has an important role to play, especially as Angola’s government seems concerned with improving its image.
“I think that Angola’s trade partners, donors and diplomatic community have an important role to play in raising these very serious concerns about Angola’s human rights record. This case is not unique. It’s emblematic of a broader pattern or torture, of arrests that we’ve seen over years now. And the donor, and the diplomatic and the business community have been extraordinarily quiet on these concerns. And I think that this is a very important moment to change tack," she said.
So far, the protests have not impacted Angola’s position as the second-largest oil producer in Africa, behind Nigeria.
But that standing is not what is important to most Angolans.
The International Monetary Fund says Angola is the fifth-richest nation in Africa. But the World Bank says the average Angolan lives only to age 51, and UNICEF says more than half the population lives below the poverty level of $1.25 a day.