Angola Battles Human Rights Groups: The Government of Oil-Rich Angola and Human Rights Organisations Are Locked in Combat over Claims of Harsh Treatment of Migrant Workers and Financial Scandals in the Oil Industry. Milan Vesely Has the Details

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The Angolan government is in a face-off with the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UK-based Global Witness (GW) over its handling of oil revenues and its treatment of foreign diamond diggers, commonly known as 'garimpeiros'.

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In doing so it has come under the scrutiny of IMF officials who last year sent a team to Luanda to investigate reports than $900m of oil money had gone into secret accounts abroad.

"While ordinary Angolans suffered through a profound humanitarian crisis, their government oversaw the suspicious disappearance of truly colossal sums of money," Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Programme at the HRW group said. Claiming that the "Luanda government has committed acts of barbarism against those foreigner diamond diggers being expelled," he urged Angola to heed the organisation's call to investigate the matter.

A massive inflow of refugees into Angola from the neighboring countries followed the ending of 27 years of hostilities between UNITA and the MPLA in 2002. Among these were considerable numbers of Namibians, Zambians, Zimbabweans and many others from as far afield as the DRC, Mali and Burundi.

It is these foreign workers that the government wants to expel and, according to a government spokesman, some 11,000 have been deported in a massive operation in the Kibala, Mussende and Libolo districts of Kwanza South province since December alone.

Warning that there had been a massive inflow of non-Angolans into the diamond digging sector in particular, the government clamped down by arresting and deporting some additional 700 'garimpeiros' in a follow-up operation. "In the course of this operation," HRW claims, "the Angolan Army committed atrocities against those being expelled."

LEGITIMATE ACTS OF SOVEREIGNTY?

The Angolan government defends its actions as legitimate acts of "sovereignty in defense of the economy," and accuses HRW of exaggerating the issue.

Admitting that some 'excesses' may have been committed in the operation conducted jointly by the police and army, Angola's Interior Minister Osvaldo Serra Van-Dunem said that Angola had the right to defend its valuable diamond fields from illegal exploitation. "Many of the foreigners are smuggling the illegally mined diamonds out of Angola and the state does not earn any revenue from them," he said, in justifying his government's action. "This is unacceptable."

The Angolan operation destroyed 3,400 miners' huts and seized firearms and equipment such as generators, sieves, scales and satellite telephones. In addition, army personnel confiscated a considerable amount of supplies, among which were some dangerous chemicals.

How many actual diamonds were confiscated has not been specified, neither has the procedure for how these stones would be disposed off been explained. An official from the state diamond company would only say that indigenous Angolans would be registered in the near future so that they could start working legally again. He declined to say whether they would be permitted to work for themselves, or be obliged to work under a government contract scheme.

The latest tussle between HRW and the Angolan President Dos Santos' government is just one more in a string of verbal clashes between human rights organisations and the Luanda authorities--the most recent regarding corruption in the state oil company Sonangol.

The Washington-based group accused the Angolan government of corruption in the loss of $4bn of oil revenues. Claiming that the money had gone missing from 1997-2002, HRW pointed out that this lost sum was the equivalent to the total amount spent by the government on social services during the same period. For its part, the Angolan government issued a statement disputing the group's accusations.

"The government can't be held responsible for estimated income that is based on non-credible sources, bearing in mind that none of the international financial institutions have to date proven those accusations," the statement read. …