Angolan security forces frequently abuse irregular migrants during expulsions from Angola, including sexual violence and other degrading and inhuman treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 50-page report, “‘Sexual Violence and Other Abuses against Congolese Migrants during Expulsions from Angola,” describes an alarming pattern of human rights violations by members of Angolan security forces against Congolese migrants. Women and girls, who are often detained with their children, have been victims of sexual abuse including gang rape, sexual exploitation, and being forced to witness sexual abuse of other women and girls. Beatings, degrading and inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrests, and denial of due process have been common practices during roundups of undocumented migrants, and in custody before their deportation.
“Angola has a right to expel irregular migrants, but this does not justify denying them basic rights,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Torture, beatings, and rape and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment violate both Angola’s law and international law.”
The Angolan authorities should protect migrants from abuse, rein in security forces, investigate allegations of serious abuse, and prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said. International and Angolan law require Angola to effectively prevent, investigate, and punish acts of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 victims and witnesses to abuses, during expulsions from the Cabinda enclave and the diamond-rich Lunda Norte province to the Congolese provinces of Bas-Congo and Kasai-Occidental in 2009 and 2011. Most of those migrants enter Angola to work in alluvial diamond mines or in informal markets.
Since 2003, Angola has conducted mass expulsions of irregular migrants almost every year, amid recurring allegations of serious human rights violations. In 2011, according to United Nations estimates, 100,000 migrants were expelled. The most serious abuses, including sexual violence, have occurred in detention facilities. Victims identified abusers from a broad range of security forces, including several branches of the police, immigration officials, and armed forces. However, the Angolan authorities have failed to carry out thorough and credible investigations into the allegations, and to prosecute perpetrators.
Women and girls, most of whom were rounded up at informal markets and in residential areas, gave Human Rights Watch consistent descriptions of patterns of sexual abuse and of those who abused them. Most of the reported abuses took place in detention facilities in Lunda Norte, in jails or prisons used as transit centers exclusively for migrants. Victims said that while in detention, groups of members of various security forces repeatedly demanded sex from female detainees, and threatened them with beatings or death, or offered food in exchange. The often-appalling detention conditions – overcrowded cells, and a lack of food, drinking water, and sanitation facilities – contributed to pressure on victims to submit to sexual exploitation.
Children often witnessed sexual abuses against their mothers and other female inmates. A 30-year-old Congolese woman expelled in June 2011 described her plight in Condueji prison in Dundo: “We were 73 women and 27 children in the cell. They disturbed us all the time to have sex with them. Women accepted due to the suffering. There was nothing to eat or drink or not even water. Sometimes they brought biscuits for the children, but only for the women who accepted having sex with them.”
Another former detainee held in the same prison in June 2011 said: “We were 57 women and 10 children in a cell. Men came all the time, day and night, requesting sex from women. They came in groups of three or four. They raped some women. All this happened in the same cell. The children saw everything and cried a lot. I resisted and an agent kicked me in my belly.”
Human Rights Watch also heard accounts from numerous victims and witnesses of systematic beatings, torture, and degrading and inhuman treatment during roundups, transport to detention facilities, and in custody. Most migrants told Human Rights Watch that Angolan officials arrested them arbitrarily in random roundups or house-to-house operations, without showing an arrest warrant or giving migrants the opportunity to challenge their detention.
The Angolan government has regularly denied and played down allegations of sexual violence, torture, and cruel, degrading, or inhumane treatment during expulsions, despite concerns expressed by the United Nations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and international and local organizations since 2004. In response to concerns raised during visits to Angola by the UN secretary-general’s special representative for sexual violence against women in conflict, Margot Wallström, and the UN secretary-general in 2011, the Angolan government made commitments to comply with its international obligations during expulsions of irregular migrants. However, Angola has still not ratified the Convention against Torture and the Migrant Convention, despite pledges it made as it sought membership in the UN Human Rights Council in 2007 and again in 2010.
Mass expulsions of migrants from Angola have continued in 2012. According to the DRC authorities, Angolan security forces expelled over 5,000 migrants in the first two weeks of March from the enclave of Cabinda and Soyo city alone. In a particularly serious incident, on March 23, 2012, three Congolese migrants died in the Cadeia Civil in Cabinda, allegedly of asphyxiation in an overcrowded cell. The prison has been used as a transit jail for migrants for many years.
Lawyers in Cabinda told Human Rights Watch that the police opened an investigation into the alleged responsibility of three immigration officials for the deaths. However, they also said that the victims were buried directly after the medical autopsy, without the authorities allowing access to the morgue by lawyers or even having informed their families.
“Holding those responsible for these recent deaths in custody is a step in the right direction,” Lefkow said. “But the authorities still need to appropriately investigate and provide redress to hundreds of other victims. Without prosecutions there is no guarantee against future abuses.”