More than five years after the Front for the Liberation of Cabinda (FLEC) filed a complaint with the African Union (AU) against the Angolan government for alleged human rights abuses, the AU says it is willing to hear the “merits” of appointing a special rapporteur to investigate the claims.
Cabinda is separated from Angola's main territory by the River Congo and a narrow sliver of the Democratic Republic of Congo and accounts for more than half of Angola’s oil production. Cabinda's mineral wealth also includes gold, diamonds and uranium, as well as extensive reserves of tropical hardwoods. Since 1975, the status of Cabinda has been disputed, resulting in one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.
FLEC Secretary-General Joel Batila, who lives in exile in France, told IRIN: “The problem of Cabinda is taboo, because of oil. But let’s see what will come out of it. Maybe this time the international community will take it seriously. The problem of Cabinda is that it is a hidden problem.”
The Secretariat of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) received a litany of complaints on 29 September 2006, including contesting Angola’s legal rights to the territory, a variety of human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, and claims that more than 90 percent of the territory’s oil revenue was not being used for the benefit of the inhabitants.
The ACHPR, an AU body, was established by the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights which came into force on 21 October 1986 and is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights on the continent.
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“They [FLEC] claim that Cabindans have been suffering from high unemployment, lack of educational opportunities, disease and intense poverty since the Angolan government took over Cabinda’s natural resources, such as offshore oil, onshore mineral and oil resources,” part of the summary of the complaint said.
Jonathan Levy, FLEC’s attorney based in Washington, told IRIN the deadline for submission of the merits of the case was 20 February 2012. After considering the submission, the ACHPR would decide on whether or not to appoint a special rapporteur to investigate claims of human rights abuses and the unfair allocation of mineral resources.
Levy said they had had five years to compile their case and was confident they would meet the 60-day deadline set in December at the 10th extraordinary session of the African Commission held in the Gambian capital of Banjul on 12-16 December 2011.
Cabinda’s claim to independence is based on one interpretation of the region’s colonial history. Angola was a Portuguese colony for hundreds of years, while Cabinda became a Portuguese Protectorate in 1885 under the Treaty of Simulambuco, which provided protection to the Cabindan kingdoms of N'Goyo, Kacongo and Loango from the colonial ambitions of Belgium, Britain and France.
Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar declared Angola a province of Portugal in the 1930s and Cabinda was brought under the same administration. Those favouring independence for Cabinda say Angola's first government annexed it at independence in 1975.