Angola: Press Conference of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Luanda

News and Press Release
Originally published
My main message to Luanda, during this visit and the short trip I made to the Province of Malange, was the reaffirming of the importance of human rights as a whole, I mean not only civil and political rights but also, obviously economic, social and cultural rights as an instrument, as the vehicle of a new spirit and a new environment of trust in this country, which is fundamental for the strengthening of reconciliation in a country devastated by the war. We must join forces and resources in our effort to create a new environment. An environment that excludes violence, in other words a culture of tolerance. It must be a social perspective that would the transforming of all values and commitments that we find in the Angolan Constitution. A constitution rich in human rights.
I discussed with the people I met the possibility of drawing a human rights national plan. I defined a global strategy in order to capacitate Angolans by creating new structures or reforming the current ones in order to promote human rights and good governance as well as the State of Law in Angola and this plan of action could also offer systematic information to capacitate and train the army, the police and other security forces. We shall continue to provide assistance to the structures of the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Prosecutor General, which are very important elements of the State of Law. Launching programs to give Angolan women all their rights, the effective possibility of exercising all their rights. Protecting her against various forms of violence, including domestic and sexual violence. Promoting gender equality. It is also necessary to protect the children, who besides women are the major victims of conflicts like the one that hit Angola for a long time. We also need to create conditions to facilitate the return and reintegration of the refugees and IDPs, as well as other victims of the conflict.

I would like to share with you, some general conclusions. The first one is that during this transition period and in the construction of a true and lasting peace in Angola, the reconstruction of a democratic and respectful society of all the communities and all the interests of Angola, is a fundamental process that becomes possible as one of the elements for the preparation of the elections in Angola, a matter on which I received information from the President of the Republic and the President of the National Assembly. It seems to me that this phase of preparation for the general elections in Angola, independently of the date in which they are to be held, It is a unique opportunity to make the cause of human rights go forth and fully release all the potentialities of the civil society and the people of Angola.

Q; After the contacts you held with Angolan authorities, what is your evaluation of the human rights situation in Angola?

SVM: My last visit here was in 1998, and at the time for example in the province of Kwanza-Sul, there was a dramatic humanitarian situation. Angola was one of the UN's major humanitarian programmes. What I saw in Malange yesterday is a radically different situation, in terms of military security, in terms of peace, the possibility that many people have already had to return to their homes, their villages, of leading a normal life, providing for themselves, living an honourable life, sending their children off to school, providing basic medical assistance to their families, in terms of these the situation has really improved.

Q: Mr. High Commissioner, there was some criticism that your programme was too official and that you bypassed the human rights reality, and these criticism includes the situation in Cabinda. Can you comment on that?

SVM: First of all let me tell you that I did not bypass anything. I bypassed many things because a three-day visit is insufficient to see the reality in any country, especially a country with Angola's territorial extension. Secondly I met with NGOs, with representatives of the civil society, with religious organizations, with journalists and many observers. I met with a lot of people who gave me a sufficiently complete picture of the situation. Regarding Cabinda I received a lot of information about it, oral and written from national and international observers that seem to be objective and reliable. Shortly after arriving I said, and I have just repeated, that the war, especially an internal conflict is synonymous of human rights violations. The civilian populations, the innocent populations, especially women and children are the first victims of any conflict. So it is obvious that if this conflict is still going on in Cabinda, the civilian populations are also necessarily, continuously, unquestionably suffering. And it seems important to me that we start making a survey. I suggested this to the Government, with relation to the humanitarian situation in Cabinda, so that we may help the government attend to the needs of the population, in a spirit of humanitarian assistance. Angola is a member of the Security Council since the beginning of this month and obviously this includes new responsibilities. It was not a coincidence that last year on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, the Security Council considered and approved a report of the SG on the Protection of civilian populations in conflict situations. It is a matter that has been causing concern to the SC since I presented the first report on the matter on February 1998. So the Council recognizes that the matter of protecting civilians in a conflict situation is part of their responsibility to maintain and restore peace and international security. It is important that Angola, as a member of the SC, supports us in this task and if the population of Cabinda needs help, and from what I understand it does, the Government must help us to provide help.

Q: What is your proposal for a plan of action? You proposed the urgent elaboration of a plan of action...

SVM: Regarding the National Human Rights Plan, I cannot say that the official answer on the matter was positive. I certainly felt that the Presidents of the Commissions of the National Assembly were interested in my proposal. And the Minister of External Relations said he would study my suggestion and share it with the President of the Republic. So the proposal was not rejected, on the contrary, I was assured that it would be positively considered.

Q: You spoke of the Government's will to change, but in light of these massive violations of human rights abuses, even outside the country's civil war, how can we seriously expect such a rapid and fast change from the part of the Government to address these human rights issues?

SVM: Yes there are a variety of human rights abuses and violations that are undeniable. What I think we face here in Angola is what we have faced in other countries that have emerged from civil conflicts where what we call a culture of violence has developed, patterns of behaviour have existed, have either been encouraged or spontaneously emerged over the years, that have led to either a systematic or occasional violations of human rights. You do not change that overnight. I have just gone through a similar experience myself in Kosovo first and East Timor and I can tell you that even with all our good intentions as the UN Administration it is not in two and a half years that we could transform that culture of violence. That is why I have said that through a national human rights plan, the third commitment of the Government to achieving the goal of its constitution, which is an excellent one, in recognition of the responsibility of the State in promoting human rights, we can engage in a vast programme of reforms, institutional reforms, capacity building, training aimed at transforming the culture of violence into a culture of tolerance of human rights. It is not an easy task, believe you me. But what I also believe is that given the prospect of general elections in two to three years, this opens a unique window of opportunity to engage the Angolan society and civil society in particular in this country.

Q: You spoke of the UN having educational functions in human rights, will your presence in the country also have the political muscle to investigate abuses of human rights, particularly on the recent reports of violations, alleged violations by the army, will you be able to investigate allegations like that.

SVM: I have raised several of those during my visit, in the process of capacity building, of technical assistance of reform of institutions to which I have referred, you cannot use that in pedagogical terms by bringing to the attention of the Government such violations. If you were to transform the role of the UN here into an investigative one, I can tell you we will go nowhere, certainly not in the immediate future, but if we do it in partnership, then as part of our effort to reform the institutions, particularly the justice system that is very weak, the Office of the PG, then the answer is yes and the Government is keen, that is, it's interested in the police command for instance, in the Prosecutor-General's Office, in the Ministry of Justice to identify these weaknesses which are violations of human rights and transforming the behaviour of those institutions in such a way that these violations will not occur in the future, so, yes but in a constructive, helpful manner.