August 15, 2003

Resettlement process highly flawed

The Angolan government and the United Nations are failing to ensure the safe and voluntary return of millions of Angolans to their homes, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 29-page report, "Struggling Through Peace: Return and Resettlement in Angola," documents several incidents of government authorities using violence, or the threat of violence, to drive people out of camps where they had been living sometimes for years. The Human Rights Watch report also raises concerns about reported incidents of rape and other sexual violence against internally displaced women and returning refugees. "The end of the conflict in Angola is a blessing for millions of Angolans who can now return home," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "But unless urgent measures are taken to stop these abuses, peace will be a curse instead."

Hundreds of Angolan refugees have spontaneously returned to their homes since the ceasefire of April 2002, but millions of internally displaced people, refugees and ex-combatants remain in exile, in transit or in temporary resettlement sites within Angola. Rather than paying special attention to children, women, and vulnerable groups, the Angolan government has granted preference to ex-combatants for resettlement. The government has also failed to provide people with identity documents that would help them get access to humanitarian assistance, which is in any case inadequate. "Angola is an oil-rich state with the resources to help its people," said Takirambudde. "There's no excuse for the way they have been suffering."

Angolan law has incorporated international standards on the protection of the displaced, but the government has failed to respect that law in practice, Human Rights Watch charged. Landmines have killed or maimed hundreds as they have tried to return home, Human Rights Watch said. "U.N. agencies have also failed to take effective steps to ensure the protection of Angolans from human rights violations. Human Rights Watch urged the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and U.N. Human Rights Division in Angola to increase their outreach to vulnerable groups whom the Angolan government has ignored in resettlement efforts. Human Rights Watch also appealed to the donor community to fully fund the U.N. interagency appeal for Angola.

The Human Rights Watch report urges the Angolan government and international agencies to ensure reasonably uniform conditions in the areas to which the internally displaced, refugees, and former combatants will return, and to pay special attention to the needs of women, children and other vulnerable groups. Most importantly, the Angolan government must respect international and domestic law requiring the voluntary basis on which displaced people should be resettled. (Human Rights Watch, Washington-DC)

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