Last week, the Angolan government issued a statement refuting a report of human rights allegations in its diamond fields.
The Angolan statement, which can be read in full here, includes this passage:
On the April 24, 2013 the provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul were visited by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay… Pillay also addressed the issue of the living conditions of the many illegal immigrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the 2,600 kilometer long border the countries share and confirmed the extreme complexity of the matter.
“I fully accept that the irregular entry of tens of thousands of migrants into Angola every year, many of them seeking to dig illegally for diamonds, is causing major problems for the government, which has a right to set limits to migration and to regulate a key industry. It also has a right to deport irregular migrants, but must do so humanely and in full compliance with international human rights laws and standards. I support efforts to tackle this extremely complex and difficult issue at a regional level, and have agreed to raise the issue of closer cooperation by the DRC, from where around 80 percent of the migrants entering Angola originate.”
That quoting however was pretty selective. Reading Pillay’s remarks in full, after those comments, he said this:
… [T]he need to tackle human rights violations against migrants on Angolan territory is the responsibility of the Angolan Government, and the Angolan Government alone. During my visit to a remote border crossing in Lunda Norte, I received indications that sexual abuse of female migrants is continuing, as well as theft of property. Allegations of sexual abuse of migrant women along this border have persisted for much of the past ten years.
While the scale of the problem may be disputed, one rape is a rape too many, especially when carried out by a member of the security forces who ought to be protecting civilians from crimes. I believe a full and transparent cross-border investigation is long overdue. There needs to be major effort to sensitize police and border guards, and to make it clear that such crimes will no longer be tolerated. Anyone found to have sexually abused any woman, including migrants — irregular or otherwise – should feel the full force of the law.
I should add that I see selecting quoting all the time, including from the NGO side of the aisle, but the allegations here (rape) are so serious—and putting on my business hat, so potentially damaging to the industry—I thought they deserved spotlighting and discussing. Angola’s harsh treatment of its illegal diamond diggers have been talked about many times over the years, including in reports from The Wall Street Journal, from Israeli journalist Chaim Even-Zohar, and by JCK.
The Angolan statement does mention it “welcomes” a human rights advisor from the high commissioner’s officer, which is a solid suggestion. And that the government even bothered to put out a statement is a hopeful sign; it means the people there are taking these allegations seriously, and want to do the right thing.
Angola is a major producer that may eventually become an even bigger one. By most accounts, the situation there has improved markedly. There is talk of the country becoming Kimberley Process chair in 2015. If that’s the case, the country must make sure it cleans up any problems. How bad would it be for the KP, and the industry, if the chair of such an important process is a country where illegal diggers are beaten and raped? I understand there is a complex problem along the border, but that is simply not acceptable.
In addition, the government must respond to any criticism in a honest, forthright, and completely transparent way. I am not sure this statement gets that balance right. But at least it’s a start.
I’ve reached out to the Angola KP representative, and he promised to have more information on this next week.