Angola’s attorney general has summoned several senior officials to testify in a politically-charged case that potentially implicates leading figures from the military and security services in acts of torture and murder in the diamond fields of the country’s north-east:
The case was brought before the attorney general, on November 14, 2011, by Angolan human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais (right), who has been investigating rights abuses connected with the diamond industry since 2004. In his deposition to the attorney general, Marques referred to testimony that implicates the mining consortium Sociedade Mineira do Cuango (SMC) in acts of torture and murder against local populations and against informal diamond miners.
“Under the Kimberley Process the state has the responsibility of certifying that diamonds mined in its national territory comply with ethical standards,” Marques said. “In Angola, the process is worthless, since senior state officials have been complicit in some of the worst human rights abuses associated with the diamond industry: the destruction of livelihoods as well as torture and murder.”
The hearings are due to start today in the capital, Luanda.
A dossier of abuses collected by Marques and his colleagues in the Luanda region was published in Portugal last year under the title Diamantes de Sangue: Tortura e Corrupção em Angola (Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola). The book forms part of the testimony presented to the Angolan attorney general.
Respondents in the case include General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”, Minister of State and head of the Military Bureau in the Angolan presidency, as well as a close confidante and business associate of President José Eduardo dos Santos. Also named are three former commanders in chief of the Angolan Armed Forces: General António dos Santos França Ndalu, General João de Matos and General Armando da Cruz Neto.
“How can profitable diamond mining, in a peaceful country with such a fast-growing economy, become the source of so much violence?,” Marques asked last week, addressing a conference on International Law: War Crimes, Human Rights, and Immigration at the Elon University School of Law, North Carolina:
Angola celebrates this year a historical landmark – 10 years of peace. It took 14 years of armed struggle to gain our independence, and 27 more years of bloodshed, for Angolans to achieve peace.
Yet, in the diamond-rich region of the Lundas, the peace dividend has been spoiled by a steady rise of extra-judicial killings, and the daily torture of villagers and artisanal miners, who often pan for diamonds along the river bed. The abuses also include the destruction of subsistence farming, the main source of survival for Lundas’ citizens, and other measures.
The diamond industry accounts for an average of over a billion dollars a year in revenues, which places the country as the fifth largest diamond producer in the world by value. But Angola is far richer in other natural resources, especially oil. This commodity has endowed the country with remarkable economic progress due to an increase in production and the record-high prices in the international oil markets. In 2002, at the outset of peace, the country had a real GDP of US $11.2 billion and 10 years later this figure multiplied tenfold. In contrast, the majority of Angolans (54.3%) live below the poverty line, on less than US$1.25 per day.
The funds will be used by Maka Angola, a bilingual Portuguese-English website (www.makaangola.org ), to strengthen its mission in promoting the rule of law and press freedom in Angola. NED’s sponsorship will help Maka Angola’s ability to provide reliable investigative reporting on corruption and human rights topics, among other critical issues currently facing Angola. The funding, the first ever awarded to Maka Angola by an institution, will also help to mitigate the frequent cyber attacks the online platform has been experiencing.
“We have been impressed by the impact the website is making, its careful investigation of facts, and its fearlessness in telling the truth and challenging those who are abusing their power,” said Dave Peterson, the Senior Director of NED’s Africa Program.
Rafael Marques de Morais is a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and is currently a visiting scholar at the African Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University (SAIS), in Washington, D.C.