28 November 2007

Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the United Nations Human Rights Council, made the following statement on 27 November 2007 in Luanda at the end of her visit to the Republic of Angola:

“I arrived in Angola seven days ago at the invitation of the Government in order to inquire into the situation of freedom of religion of belief in Angola. I am very grateful to the Government for the cooperation extended to me.

In Luanda I met with the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Supreme Court, the Vice-Minister of Interior, Vice-Minister of Justice, Director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, Head of the Department of Religious Affairs (the Ministry of Justice), the Deputy Minister of Culture, the Attorney General, the National Institute of the Child and the Deputy Governor of Luanda. In Cabinda I met with the Deputy Governor, the Police Commander, the President of the Provincial Supreme Court and the Director of the National Institute of the Child.

I was also privileged to meet with members of civil society, including NGOs, members of different faith communities and religious leaders in both Luanda and Cabinda.

I would like to make some preliminary points. First, the Government’s invitation to me represents a commitment to transparency, in the area I cover, and also allows outside scrutiny of its human rights record. Secondly, I recognize that Angola only emerged from conflict in 2002 following 27 years of armed conflict which had a devastating effect on the country and Angolan people.

The right to freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in Angola’s 1992 Constitution which remains in force today. Many in Angola today are able to practice their religion or belief freely and there is in this regard a measure of tolerance within Angolan Society. I would however note the following concerns:

a) Law no. 2/04 on freedom of religion, consciousness and worship discriminates against religious minorities. It is not in conformity with international standards to which Angola is a party. It contains stringent requirements for registration including membership of 100,000 persons who are domiciled in Angola. A number of Christian groups as well as the Muslim community in Angola have not been granted recognition to date, despite having submitted several applications for registration. Other religious minorities have no chance of recognition. It also has potential practical implications for religious communities, such as a denial of permission to build places of worship, the closure of places of worship or the prohibition of religious organizations. I recommend that the law is reformed and was encouraged by the openness of the Government to review the provisions of the law.

b) In Cabinda human rights violations by the security forces continue. These violations and the intra-religious conflict within the Catholic Church are inter-related and represent challenges to the full enjoyment by all of the right to freedom of religion or belief. The arrest of four men on 12 July 2007 peacefully protesting against the newly appointed bishop at a mass, and the prosecution and conviction with suspended sentences of three of these under a draconian Colonial Decree dating from 1911, amounted to a clear violation of their right to freedom of religious expression. During my visit I received a significant number of reports of violence, intimidation and harassment and arrests by State agents of individuals perceived to be associated with the crisis in the Catholic Church.

c) Regrettably, Angola is also affected by a dominant global trend of associating Muslims with international terrorism. I have read a number of media reports linking Muslims in Angola to issues of national security and international terrorism. In addition high ranking Government officials are reported in the press stigmatizing followers of Islam. Indeed several Government actors I spoke with expressed concerns about the presence of Muslims in the country. I was told that most of the illegal migrants in the country are Muslims and that they are involved in counterfeiting of money and money laundering, but we were provided with no evidence of this. The Government is obliged to promote tolerance and I would hope that unsubstantiated statements by officials will not be made to the detriment of any religious community.

d) Witchcraft is widespread in Angola and neighboring countries. It is historical and valued as a part of many traditional beliefs. However, some negative manifestations of it have crept into a number of religions and beliefs adding sanctity to adverse practices leading to abuses of human rights. The phenomenon of children who are accused of being witches by their families has significantly increased in recent years. I interviewed children who were subjected to different forms of abuse by priests or traditional healers under the guise of treatment, having been ostracized by their families and communities. I was very much encouraged by the leadership assumed by the National Children’s Institute, together with UNICEF, to address this problem. In my report I will look forward to further cooperation from the Government of Angola and UNICEF in light of recommendations I will be submitting in my report. I do however note that further human rights education is required, together with a strengthening of the criminal justice system, to bring to justice those who abuse children.

e) The closure of four mosques in Luanda by the police in January 2006 amounted to unlawful interference with the right to freedom of worship. Whilst I note with satisfaction that the mosques concerned were able to reopen of their own accord by the end of 2006, no Government official I spoke to was able to present a specific legal order for the closures. Furthermore a number of religious communities were severely restricted by the authorities in the exercise of their freedom of religion or belief in Cabinda. In some cases violence, threats and intimidation were also used by the Government.

f) I am obliged to the Government for providing access to two immigration detention centres in Luanda and a further centre presently under construction. At the first detention centre I visited, which contained only five detainees, conditions were good but at the second conditions were deplorable. Ninety five percent of the 165 persons detained there are Muslims, without access to a chaplain or Imam, or religious books and their dietary needs are not being met. There is an urgent need for consular access to the detainees as well as access for UNHCR.

Finally, I should note that my present statement is only designed to highlight some, but by no means all, of the issues and recommendations which will be part of my final report, which I expect to present to the Human Rights Council in March of next year.”