Angola’s Rampant Extra-Judicial Killings

More witnesses have come forward to corroborate reports of a wave of extra-judicial killings by elements of the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) working with the National Police in the suburbs of the Angolan capital, Luanda.

Testimony and evidence from multiple sources points to an astonishing level of violence at the hands of either police or SIC agents, including more than 100 extra-judicial shootings in the past five months.

Highly-placed sources in the Angolan government suggest that this is the direct result of pressure from the Interior minister for the SIC to crack down on crime in the Viana suburb.

Criminal investigators

Recently Maka Angola reported the killing of José Loureiro Padrão, known as ‘Zeca’, a 40-year-old motorcycle mechanic who was beaten to death while in SIC custody. A witness to that killing has now come forward to corroborate the family’s complaint and to give further details.

“Zeca was wrapped in a coverlet and then beaten with crowbars and hammers,” said a young man known as ‘Africa’, who was detained at the same time and who was also badly beaten, having both his arms broken by men he says were SIC agents at Police Station 8. Both were arrested in Viana, and later transferred to the city.

Zeca died on August 31 this year and an autopsy revealed his skull was fractured in three places. The cause of death was given as “blunt injury trauma to the head and abdomen”.

This was just one week after the son of a National Police officer was shot in Mamá Gorda Square in District 6. Witnesses say it was 3pm on August 24 and Rufino Fernando Lucas, known as ‘Tubila’, was shopping when he was surrounded by a SIC unit working with National Police officers. Witnesses concurred in saying “he was shot down right there in front of everyone” and “not a word was said before they shot him”. A neighbor, João Kambuta, who says he knew Tubila well told Maka Angola: “He had never been in any trouble, he was innocent of any crime”.

Since Maka Angola first began reporting these alleged extra-judicial killings in Viana, numerous denunciations have flooded in. So far, Maka Angola has plausible grounds to suspect that more than 100 people have been shot dead by SIC officers in Viana this year. It is feared the death toll is much higher.

Locals say that SIC officers are attacking people on a whim, on the basis of a tip-off or the mere whisper of suspicion. As recently as September 6 up to twelve young men are alleged to have been killed by officers from the same unit in Police Station 44. Maka Angola has so far only been able to confirm the deaths of six.

Photographic evidence corroborates witness testimony that the six young men were killed by shots to the head. Some also displayed gunshot wounds to the chest or back, depending on how they fell. Locals say they were shot down and then a ‘coup de grace’ shot was fired into their heads.

In the past few days Maka Angola has learned of numerous incidents such as this one: on May 4 in the Kilometer 30 area in Viana, locals caught four young men suspected of theft. Two were burned to death on the spot. Witness Manuel Tunga [real name withheld for security reasons] says “The other two suspects were picked up by National Police officers working with the SIC. They were driven to their home area in District 9B where they were executed in the square, their bullet-ridden bodies left overnight from 6pm to 10am the next day”.

Similarly, on May 5, a crowd, including children, were watching a game of football at the Escolinha field (between Mirú and District 6), when a Toyota Land-Cruiser without license plates pulled up. Witness João Kambuta [real name withheld for security reasons] says: “SIC agents pulled out three young men and shot them in the head, killing all three on the spot, in front of the children. One of the victims was Marcolino Hossi, also known as ‘Litana’, aged 26.”

Inter-agency rivalry

The Divisional Command of the National Police in Viana – a suburb of over 1.5 million inhabitants – is led by Chief Superintendent Francisco Notícia. The commander is a known ‘hard nut’.

Sources within the National Police all unequivocally put the blame on the Criminal Investigation Service for the extrajudicial killings. They say it’s not just one rogue unit out of control but that the whole service is contaminated by the same ethos of ‘results at any cost’.

And, in an even more disturbing development, a high-level source at the Interior ministry has told Maka Angola that he believes Interior Minister Ângelo de Barros Veiga Tavares is directly responsible for the wave of killings. He says the Minister’s demands for a crackdown on crime spurred SIC agents to conduct random detentions and beatings to get results. And that this has escalated into outright torture and murder.

The Interior Minister Ângelo de Barros Veiga Tavares.

The Interior Minister Ângelo de Barros Veiga Tavares.

Since 2014, the minister has assumed direct control of the SIC operation, emasculating the SIC director Chief Commissar Eugénio Pedro Alexandre.

“The Minister has to take responsibility for this,” said one source. “SIC has lost control over the actions of its agents. And it’s the minister who has created this situation in which acts of illegal detention, assault, torture and even murder have been tolerated, or perhaps encouraged.”

The National Police are understandably keen to distance themselves from the alleged criminal behaviour of the SIC. Clearly there is considerable ‘bad blood’ between the two agencies.

The high-ranking source in the Interior Ministry explained the confusion: “Civilians don’t grasp that the SIC is an autonomous body, no longer part of the National Police.”

Two years ago President José Eduardo dos Santos issued Decree 209/14, closing down the Police’s own National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC) and creating in its place SIC, which is under the direct control of the Interior Ministry.

One senior National Police officer told us “the law only allows the police to make arrests and then they have to hand over the suspects to the SIC.” “SIC has a serious problem with getting qualified people – some of their agents are outright crooks, many have some ‘scheme’ or other on the go, frankly there’s anarchy there.”

Other police sources concur with his opinion that the police are being made the scapegoats for ministry and SIC excesses. “The Police no longer have a voice in the highest circles.” At Interior Ministry briefings to the President, the Minister used to be accompanied by the National Police Commander-General, but that is no longer the case, they say, because the Interior minister does not want the President to hear what the Police could tell him.

The senior officer says that ministerial ambitions have put roadblocks in the way of the development of the National Police force. “Successive ministers have wanted to take direct charge of operational matters so they could bask in any successes.” He says there is insufficient infrastructure within the SIC, who consequently have to summon police officers to make arrests and then those same uniformed officers are tarnished by association when the SIC exceed their authority.

The National Police exist not only to uphold law and order, but also to protect citizens. When they are compromised by being drawn into incidents that end up with criminal acts of violence against citizens, they not only lose public confidence in their authority but they too can end up being charged with being complicit in the crimes committed by others.

Reports reaching Maka Angola indicate that the (National Police) commander of Police Station 8 has been detained for questioning for the Zeca killing. It’s not clear whether any SIC agents have been detained.

“The truth is that SIC needs to be restructured from the top to the bottom. Its role needs to be clearly defined. Because of SIC, the police currently have no role in investigations.”

The buck stops with the president

Even if the allegations against Interior Minister Ângelo de Barros Veiga Tavares are unproven, it remains the case that the ultimate responsibility for taking action over these extrajudicial killings lies with President José Eduardo dos Santos. Under Angola’s Constitution, the President enjoys full executive powers which he delegates to ministers.

Rui Verde says: “In legal terms, the person who delegates responsibility remains ultimately responsible for the acts of the person to whom responsibility has been delegated. This is the other side of the coin when all power is concentrated in the head of state – with absolute power comes absolute responsibility.”

In public, President dos Santos has spoken of the need for “innovative and more efficient solutions to guarantee swift justice” in Angola. The problem is that ‘swift justice’ has been interpreted by some as giving them a license to kill, in the belief they are above the law and will enjoy impunity from prosecution for the deaths of scores, if not hundreds, of the anonymous poor.

The President has been hailed for his role in abolishing the death penalty in Angola in 1991 and Angola’s official government website pays tribute to him for never having upheld the death penalty even when it existed. Is he aware that agents acting on his behalf are accused of carrying out extrajudicial executions? If so, then the President has the power to intervene directly. At the very least, he needs to ask some questions to his Interior Minister.