Excerpt of Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola
Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais published Blood Diamonds in 2011, in which he recounted the torture and murder of Angolan villagers living near diamond mines, carried about by private security forces and military officials. Even though the nearly three decade long Angolan civil war ended in 2002, impoverished miners who scratch out a living searching for diamonds are routinely subjected to shake downs and harassment by security and police looking for bribes. A group of generals is suing de Morais for libel, 24 charges of criminal defamation that could result in a 14 year prison sentence. In May, de Morais was informed that all the charges would be dropped, although he was asked to make a short symbolic statement in court. A few days later, the public prosecutor informed de Morais that his statement was interpreted as an admission of guilt and the charges against him had been reinstated.
Earlier this month, Tinta da China, the publisher of Blood Diamonds, made the book available on its website, a move that was praised by Reporters without Borders as showing “that censorship is never a solution.” Blood Diamonds is banned in Angola, which ranks 124 out of 180 on Reporters without Borders 2014 Press Freedom Index.
CHAPTER IV – Two Paradigmatic Cases
Mass Grave: Miners Buried Alive
On December 5, 2009, a FAA [Armed Forces of Angola] patrol buried alive 45 alluvial diamond diggers who were working in a tunnel in the village of Cavuba, on the border between Luremo commune, 30 km north of Cafunfo, and Xá-Muteba municipality.
Linda Moisés da Rosa recounts how the soldiers told Cavuba’s headman Ngana Katende, to order the miners’ immediate withdrawal from the area or face death. One of da Rosa’s sons was among the miners. She recounted what occurred immediately following the soldiers’ order:
“My son Kito Eduardo António [the eldest] was there and told his brother to get out. Pereira [the youngest] said no, because he had collected gravel and first had to wash it. The soldiers arrived with crowbars, tore out the props supporting the entrance to the pit [started in the form of a tunnel] and caused it to cave in. A total of 45 miners were in there. They [the soldiers] left.”
“All 45 diggers died. The people were afraid to remove the bodies. Kito recovered his brother’s body, that of Marco João, who was from Antenna village, where his mother lives; and that of a Congolese called Karinike, his friend.”
“I, personally, together with Marco’s mother and a lot of people from Luremo, where many of the mothers have lost children, went to the police. They told us to take it up with the FAA. The soldiers from the unit beside Cafunfo hospital chased after us with their weapons pointed.”
In March 2010, during one of the research trips to Cuango, I recorded my conversation with Linda Moisés da Rosa, while accompanied by the editor of The Wall Street Journal, Michael Allen.
On my return to Luanda, I went to the Headquarters of General Staff of the FAA with the intention of informing the military leadership of the seriousness of the abuses committed by the army in Cuango. At the Headquarters I was directed to the Division for Patriotic Education, just across the street, where I played Linda Moisés da Rosa’s statement to members of the division’s staff. They were horrified at what they heard, and noted my contact details in order to inform their superiors. I heard nothing further about any internal measures to investigate what had happened in Cavubo.
On April 3, 2010, the newspaper Semanário Angolense printed the contents of Linda Moisés da Rosa’s testimony, while the FAA continued to ignore the case. The same happened when, on June 19, 2010, The Wall Street Journal published a long report entitled “In Angola the Blood Diamond resurfaces,” which referred to the 45 miners buried alive by the FAA. The army did not even reply to requests for comments on the matter.
In turn, the Secretary of State for Human Rights, general António Bento Bembe, told the American journalist Michael Allen: “I know lots of these cases happen, and I know of many other cases you [the journalist] haven’t heard about yet.”
In spite of his willingness to speak, the Secretary of State for Human Rights is a controversial figure. There is an international arrest warrant pending against General Bembe on suspicion of terrorism. In 2005, the United States requested the assistance of Interpol to arrest Bembe, the then commander of the separatist guerrilla forces FLEC-Renovada, for allegedly kidnapping an American citizen in Cabinda in 1990.
The fact that the general retains his post reveals the level of high-handed arrogance of the government, as well as its failure to take any serious measure to respect human rights. Very much the same attitude exists in its dialog with the international community on the subject. Bembe is the country’s leading representative to the international community on human rights issues.
The massacre committed by the FAA at Cavubo, and the other 54 cases, all duly identified and included in this report, by their sheer scale alone exceed any legal limitations. Article 47 of The Law on Military Crimes Law (Law no. 4/94) prohibits a soldier from carrying out acts of violence against defenseless civilians, including in wartime and during combat missions.
To be thorough, I contacted the spokesperson of the Provincial Government of Lunda-Norte, António Mussumari, several times, requesting an interview with the governor. I wanted to get the official version of the incidents covered here, especially Cavubo. Although the spokesperson was courteous, there was no official response to the request.
The MPLA, represented by the secretary of the Bureau for Political Information, Rui Falcão Pinto de Andrade, did grant my request for an interview on February 11, 2011. Also a National Assembly deputy, Pinto de Andrade took note of the accounts of the human rights abuses in Cuango and agreed to consult with his administration on possible measures to be taken. As supporting documentation, on February 14, 2011, I sent Pinto de Andrade, an e-mail detailing the large number of incidents attributed to the FAA. He did not reply.
When all is said and done, combating illegal alluvial diamond digging and regulating the development of legal informal digging in no way confers on the army the power to murder defenseless, peace-loving citizens. This is exactly what happened to the diggers buried alive at Cavubo.
Meanwhile, the current Constitution holds the State responsible (Art. 75, 1st) for acts such as those described above, under the following terms: “The State and other collective public entities are jointly, severally and civilly liable for actions and omissions practiced by their bodies, respective titular holders, agents and employees, in the exercise of the legislative, jurisdictional and administrative functions, or because of them, that which results in violation of the rights, freedoms and guarantees or prejudice to the holders of these entitlements or to third parties.”
In an article published months before the Cavubo massacre, the presiding judge of the Supreme Military Tribunal, general António dos Santos Neto extols to the virtues of military justice in Angola: “For besides being an efficient justice it is also a preventive justice, in the equal measure as the crime is often forestalled by visiting units classified with higher criminality indices, for “in loco” administration through lectures, practical examples, explanations on laws and other activities of legal scope, to instill in the military staff a culture of respect for the laws in force in the country and, in particular, the military laws and the FAA’s operational regulations to ensure combat cohesiveness and defense of the Homeland.”
In reality, as far as the diamond-bearing areas are concerned, the military chief justice’s rethoric amounts to nothing but an empty promise. In Cuango, as a reaction to the barbaric and delinquent behavior displayed by the FAA, young people now commonly consider the army to be a militia. In many of the statements recorded, people often refer to soldiers as the “FAA militia”.
Teleservice: Death by Machete
On February 5, 2010, Linda Moisés da Rosa lost her second son, Kito Eduardo António, when he was 33 years old. He was killed in his hometown of Cafunfo, by a Teleservice guard, who slashed him to death with a machete. The mother explained what happened. Having noticed that her son had failed to return from work with his fellow diggers, she decided to look for him, accompanied by members of the family. They were unsuccessful. The following day, Kito’s workmates, identified only as Russo, Fezadeiro and Smith, who had formed a digging group between them, “came to the neighborhood and told the truth about how Kito died,” recounted Linda Moisés da Rosa.
According to the mother, and backed up by statements from eyewitnesses, the Teleservice guards became angry with Kito because he had no money to pay them for access to the digging pit, but he kept on washing gravel so that he could make his payment afterwards. Linda Moises de Rosa described how: “They killed him with a machete stroke to the nape of the neck, another to the forehead and a third to the right side of his face. Then they just threw his body in the river Cuango. The Teleservice [guards] are used to getting money from the diggers (…) and the Teleservice guards allow them to remove gravel from the sluices. Kito didn’t have the money. He asked to wash the gravel and pay later. But they just killed the poor fellow.”
The mother explained that, in order to buy the other diggers’ silence and complicity, the Teleservice security personnel “gave four buckets of gravel to the boys [Russo, Fezadeiro and Smith]. The guards told them that the gravel was to ensure that the truth didn’t come out.”
Members of Kito’s family and workmates went together to the sluicing area of Dunge mine, near Pone, the scene of the crime. “The boys [survivors] live in Pone and they went with me to the Teleservice post, in the sluicing area where my son died,” said the mother. “They [the Teleservice guards] asked me what was I doing there. I explained that I was looking for the body of my son who they had killed.”
Linda Moisés da Rosa recounted how the guards invited her into their camp and sat down with her in their cabin. They informed her that they were simply following orders from above and took her to the industrial washing area where the diggers had been collecting gravel.
“They [the Teleservice guards] made a call to the Tximbulaji command post. Their manager ordered the security guards to go with me to the edge of the river to search for the body.”
Having searched for hours, and because it was getting dark and they were all tired, the family and guards returned to the cabin. When the guards announced that they had done their duty, Linda Moisés da Rosa decided to stay in the cabin. “I said that I would not leave there without seeing my son’s body. Then, the foreman authorized the guards to grant me five days to locate the body.”
According to the mother, “on the third day of the search, the guards told me that they had been following orders. It was an ordered mission. They said, ‘if we don’t kill, the government will say that we made an arrangement with the diggers to share the money [from the digging].’”
Linda Moisés da Rosa confirmed she personally informed the police of her tragedy. She found out later that the police were already aware of the incident and that they considered her son and all other diggers to blame for their own deaths. In addition to the police, the mother also contacted the local authorities, and reported that these authorities said they were powerless to do anything about it because they were only ‘following orders.’
In response, Linda Moisés da Rosa narrated the following: “I said, that’s just great! So, who will the government govern if it is killing off the young people? They answered that the government doesn’t recognize us [Tchokwé people]. ‘When they say the people, they don’t mean you [Tchokwé people]. The government doesn’t consider you relevant. The government only considers people from outside. Not you.’ We don’t know who we are now. We were born here. The river of the diamonds is here, in our land, where I gave birth to my son. The water my Kito drank came from the Rio Kuango. It is the water I bathed him in. The foreigners take all the diamonds. Our sons cannot benefit from the diamonds, they are dead. The Teleservice [guards] told me: ‘Your son is a Mr. Nobody.’ They said that I am a nobody in society and that my son is no loss to Angola.”
The above selection from Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola was used with permission from the publisher, Tinta da China. Published 2011 by Tinta da China in Portugal.