New York — Amnesty International has released a report revealing the scale and extent of forced evictions in Angola and expressing particular concern at forced evictions carried out by Angolan authorities apparently at the request of the Catholic Church.
“The Angolan government claims it is addressing the eviction problem, yet hundreds of families in Luanda are still homeless,” said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). “When the government relocates civilians to places further away from schools, jobs and basic amenities, it can drive people deeper into poverty.”
According to the 38-page report, Angola: Lives in ruins: forced evictions continue, thousands of families have been forcibly evicted since 2001 — nearly always without notification to the families affected. Tens of thousands have been left without shelter since the start of the evictions; hundreds of the families’ lives are in ruins today.
Amnesty International found that nearly all of the forced evictions were accompanied by excessive use of force, which sometimes involved police beatings of children and women — including one pregnant woman — and indiscriminate shooting at residents attempting to protect their homes.
In 1998, in response to a request by the late Pope John Paul II in 1992, the Angolan government formally returned to the Catholic Church land the church owned prior to independence. However, families have been living on this land in the Wenji Maka neighborhood of Luanda for several years, and even decades in some cases.
When granting the land title to the Catholic Church, Angolan authorities reportedly did not take into consideration those people already living on the land, and national police have repeatedly tried to expel over 2,000 families in the area where the Catholic Church intends to build a sanctuary.
“The Catholic Church has been granted title to the land, but they can’t forget the rights of the people who now occupy the land,” said Jennifer Ziemke, AIUSA’s country specialist for Angola. “The church should call on the Angolan government to ensure that everyone displaced is provided with adequate shelter — not left out in the open.”
In response to Amnesty International’s request for information regarding the Catholic Church’s involvement in these forced evictions, the Archbishop of Luanda stated the church, when reclaiming title over land, had asked the government to provide land in other areas for affected individuals. The archbishop also alleged that in many instances individuals put up constructions on land when they found out that the church had intentions to use it. The archbishop further justified the actions of the church by saying “summum ius summa iniuria” (extreme law, extreme justice) — or, as the archbishop interpreted it, “justica absoluta pode desembocar em injustica” (absolute justice can result in injustice).
Since September 2004, the homes of residents in the Kilamba Kiaxi municipality have been demolished repeatedly to make room for public and private housing projects. In 2006, the Angolan government publicly acknowledged the right to compensation of those forcibly evicted, and proclaimed that it was reviewing its housing strategy with a view to responding to the housing needs of its urban population. To date, none of the affected residents of Kilamba Kiaxi has received compensation or adequate alternative accommodation.