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For Immediate Release
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Angola: Strengthen Voting and Rights Protections

Uncertainty Over Presidential Elections in 2009 No Excuse for Inaction


The government should address the failings in the 2008 parliamentary elections and ensure that the resounding victory of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) does not translate into further restrictions of civil and political freedoms, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a 45-page report, "Democracy or Monopoly? Angola's Reluctant Return to Elections," Human Rights Watch documents how the MPLA-dominated National Electoral Commission (CNE) failed to perform as an independent oversight body in those elections. The commission took no action against violations, including the ruling party's abuse of state media and resources, and obstructed the accreditation of national observers. There were numerous logistical and procedural flaws during voting, counting, and tabulation. The electoral body announced a commission of inquiry into the election flaws, but has not published any report of its work.

"The government needs to reform the electoral commission to ensure credible and independent oversight of all future elections," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "As part of that process, the promised inquiry into the 2008 election flaws should be rigorously carried out and its results published."

The Human Rights Watch report also documents the restrictive environment for independent media and the government's continuing interference with state-owned media. A press law put into effect in 2006 was a step in the right direction. The law cannot be enforced, though, until implementing legislation is passed. Furthermore, the 2006 law still allows criminal prosecutions for defamation.

"The government should urgently pass all the pending legislation to make the new press law effective and decriminalize defamation, which would bring Angola closer to compliance with international standards," Gagnon said.

President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, in power for 30 years, had announced presidential elections for 2009. However, in November 2008 he raised the possibility that a new constitution may lead to election of the president by parliament.

"Uncertainty over whether presidential elections will take place in 2009 is not an excuse for letting the problems highlighted by last year's elections go unremedied," said Gagnon. "The government needs to assure that all future elections meet regional and international standards."

The September 2008 election campaign was relatively peaceful, but Human Rights Watch documented incidents of election-related violence and intimidation by ruling party supporters in rural areas during the months before the campaign. No one has been held accountable for these acts.

Human Rights Watch also documented how the government has continued to use security concerns over the ongoing separatist insurgency in the northern enclave of Cabinda to justify restrictions of freedom of expression, association, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrests and unfair trials.

"The armed separatist insurgency in Cabinda is no justification to clamp down on peaceful civilian dissidents," said Gagnon. "Any individual accused of offenses, including those related to security concerns, has a right to a fair trial."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.