The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Angola is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Angola is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Angola is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Angola is signatory but not a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to Article 47 of Angola's 2010 Constitution:
1. Freedom of assembly and peaceful, unarmed demonstration shall be guaranteed to all citizens, without the need for any authorisation and under the terms of the law.
2. The appropriate authorities must be given advance notification of meetings and demonstrations held in public places, under the terms and for the purposes established in law.
The primary legislation on the right of peaceful assembly is the 1991 Law on the Right to Assemble and Demonstrate.Law N° 16/91 of 11 May 1991.The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before a public assembly is to be held. The authorities can restrict or stop assemblies in public spaces within 100 metres of public, military, detention, diplomatic, or consular buildings for security reasons. The law also requires public assemblies to start after 7pm on weekdays and 1pm on Saturdays.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
There is no detailed legislation on police use of force during assemblies. But under Article 2 ("Fundamental principles") of the 2002 National Security Law:
1. National security activity shall be guided by the observance of the general police rules and respect for the rights, freedoms and guarantees and other principles of the democratic rule of law.
2. Police and security measures shall be those provided for by law and shall not be used beyond what is strictly necessary.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
With regard to the use of firearms, the 1996 National Police Discipline Regulations issued by the Council of Ministers oblige police officers:
Not to make use of arms, except in the case of an imperative need to repel an attack or its imminent attempt, against themselves or against their post of service; or when the maintenance of the order so requires; or whenever their superiors so determine; and also to secure, where indispensable, any detained persons.Art. 5(38), National Police Discipline Regulations, issued by Council of Ministers Decree No. 41/96, 27 December 1996.
This provision does not comply with international standards governing police use of force.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Angola came before the Human Rights Committee in 2019. The Committee expressed its concern
about credible reports that excessive force is often used by law enforcement officers, especially during demonstrations, which has resulted in injuries and deaths. It is deeply concerned at reports that the officers responsible for demonstrators’ injuries and deaths are rarely prosecuted for such acts and that this has created a climate of de facto impunity
The Committee was also concerned about the alleged use of excessive force, including the use of dogs, intimidation and arbitrary detention, against peaceful protesters and at the insufficient information provided by Angola regarding any investigations, prosecutions and convictions in relation to such violations. The Committee called on Angola to:
(a) Ensure that all restrictions on peaceful demonstrations that are not strictly necessary and proportional within the meaning of article 21 of the Covenant are lifted;
(b) Investigate all allegations of the use of excessive force, intimidation and arbitrary detention against peaceful protesters, and ensure that perpetrators are duly prosecuted and convicted, and that victims are adequately compensated.
Angola has not ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, allowing the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights to hear cases alleging a violation of the Charter by the State. In its 2018 report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Angola did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
CIVICUS has reported that on 24 October 2020, protesters gathered in Luanda to demand the holding of local elections, which were postponed, and the rising costs of living. Police responded forcefully to the protests, which were organised by social movements, including the movement Movimento Jovens Pelas Autarquias (Youth Movement for Municipal Elections). According to news reports, police occupied the streets from the early morning, and were reinforced by military officers at the Cemitério da Santana and 1º de Maio square, where the protest was planned to end. Several activists told media they were subjected to police brutality during the protest.
According to Freedom House's report on Angola for 2020 and 2021:
Constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly are poorly upheld. While the Lourenço administration initially showed more tolerance for public demonstrations than its predecessor, peaceful marches are still frequently met with violence and arrests by the security forces. Throughout 2020, police violently dispersed and made arrests at protest marches, at times resulting in several unlawful killings by security forces. Separatists in the oil-rich Cabinda region were also targeted by the government.
In January 2021, security forces launched a violent crackdown on a peaceful protest organized by the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (MPPLT) in Angola’s Lunda Norte province. At least a dozen protesters were killed by police, though local human rights groups have suggested that the true number of those killed is significantly higher; several other activists reportedly “disappeared” following the incident. Videos circulated on social media allegedly show police forces using indiscriminate force against fleeing protesters and several who had been detained. Two senior officers implicated in the crackdown were later dismissed.