Sanctions-busting in Angola: Human Rights Watch Backgrounder

News and Press Release
Originally published

(New York, March 14, 2000) - The Security Council will hold an open briefing on Angola on March 15 at 10 am. Ambassador Robert Fowler of Canada, chair of the Council's Sanctions Committee on Angola, will present a report on the sanctions regime against the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
The 54-page report was put together by a ten-person independent Panel of Experts, mandated in May 1999 to investigate violations of the sanctions regime: the sale and delivery of arms and military equipment to the rebels; the provision of petroleum products to UNITA; the purchase of diamonds mined in areas controlled by UNITA; the maintenance of bank accounts and other financial assets of UNITA; the maintenance of UNITA offices abroad; and travel of senior UNITA officials and adult members of their immediate families.

Human Rights Watch published a four-year study on sanctions-busting in Angola Unravels (in English, September 1999) and an updated edition, Angola Explicada (in Portuguese, December 1999). Both of these reports are available on the Human Rights Watch website at

Human Rights Watch welcomes Fowler's report. From 1993 until January 1999, despite the introduction of three packages of sanctions against UNITA, the U.N. largely turned a blind eye to their violation. Following the appointment of Robert Fowler as chair, the Sanctions Committee has become much more active, producing three reports with detailed recommendations.

The Fowler report contains detailed new information, including that:

  • President Eyadema of Togo plays an important role in supporting UNITA;
  • President Compaore of Burkina Faso features prominently too, allowing Burkina Faso to be an important location for diamond trading;
  • Rwanda is an important location for gun-running and diamond trading with UNITA. The government has full-knowledge of this and provides protection; Libreville, Gabon has been an important refueling location for sanctions-busting planes after they have been inside UNITA areas;
  • Most of the weapons imported by UNITA were from Bulgaria (see Human Rights Watch April 1999 report, Money Talks, on Sofia's exports of weapons to human rights abusers);
  • The "extremely lax controls and regulations governing the Antwerp [diamond] market facilitate and perhaps even encourage illegal trading activity;"
  • The 1999 decision by De Beers to cease buying most Angolan rough "has made it more difficult for UNITA to sell its diamonds thereby raising the costs to UNITA." (However, Human Rights Watch is concerned that an Israeli firm has filled the vacuum in February 2000 created by De Beers' decision);
  • UNITA has had a general aversion for banks and normal banking channels, although it has used some credit cards. (Human Rights Watch has heard from Angolan government sources that radio communications equipment was purchased by UNITA in the U.S. and paid for by a credit card linked to an account holder resident in the United Arab Emirates);
  • Air transport are the lifeline to UNITA. The panel published the names of a number of key figures in UNITA's transportation support network including Jacques "Kiki" Lemaire, Victour Bout (Air Cess/Air Pass), and Johannes Parreira (Interstate Airways). Human Rights Watch has published more detailed information, including a list of planes noted by the U.N. to have visited UNITA areas in 1998. These include planes owned by the Angolan government (See Angola Explicada).

The Fowler report makes thirty-nine recommendations, among which:
  • The Security Council should apply sanctions against leaders and governments found to have been deliberately breaking sanctions. These might be an embargo on arms sales for three years, followed by three years probation;
  • The end-user certificate system that prevails in many countries is wholly inadequate to ensure against diversion from their declared end-user. This system requires reform;
  • Compliance with U.N. sanctions regimes should be among the criteria considered by NATO and the European Union when evaluating candidates for new membership (aimed at Bulgaria especially);
  • DNA-type analysis should be conducted on fuel samples from petroleum industry suppliers in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region and that the results be used to create a database for the purpose of evaluating fuel obtained or captured from UNITA;
  • Forfeiture penalties should be introduced against those who can not provide the legal origin of rough diamonds;
  • Sanctions should be applied against individuals and enterprises discovered to be intentionally breaking U.N. sanctions relating to UNITA diamonds. Such traders or companies should also be put on an industry "blacklist;"
  • A substantial bounty or "finders' fee percentage" could be given to any institution, non-governmental organization, or individual that tracks down and identifies UNITA assets that are subject to sanction;
  • Offending countries should be declared sanctions breakers; candidacies of nationals from listed countries should not be supported for senior positions within the U.N. and international organizations should be discouraged from holding conferences and meetings in listed countries (a recommendation aimed at Togo, which is an incoming chair of the Organization of African Unity).

The challenge is now to see the panel's imaginative recommendations enacted in practice. Human Rights Watch believes that a smaller panel of independent experts should be commissioned to monitor and encourage the implementation of the sanctions regimes against UNITA, and that Robert Fowler should be mandated to report back to the Security Council prior to the end of his mandate on January 1, 2001.
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