A man mysteriously disappears while heading to a demonstration he has helped organise. Two days later his colleague receives a call from someone purporting to know what has happened to him. The colleague goes to meet this informant and is never heard from again. The families of the two disappeared men search for them in police stations around the city; national and international media report on the disappearances; scores of youths take to the streets on numerous occasions calling for investigations into the disappearances; and international human rights organisations join in the call for justice.
Over two years later agents of the State Intelligence and Security Service, including the head of the Service at the time of the disappearances, are put on trial for the abduction and killing of the two men. But just as the families begin to believe that justice might finally be done there is an unexpected twist. The former head of the Service is promoted to General whilst facing trial for the murders. The court is paralysed. It has no jurisdiction over a General. The trial is indefinitely suspended.
You may be forgiven for thinking this is a plot to the latest political crime novel. A figment of someone’s imagination about the impunity of those with friends in high places. Few of us would like to believe that such things actually happen in democratic countries with a Constitution upholding the rule of law and human rights. Yet this is precisely the drama that is currently unfolding in the Republic of Angola.
On 1 September 2014 the trial of eight agents of the State Intelligence and Security Service started in the Provincial Court of Luanda in Angola. Among the accused was the former head of the Intelligence Service. All were standing trial for the murder of Silva Alves Kamulingue and Isaías Sebastião Cassule, who disappeared on 27 and 29 May 2012 respectively. Some of the accused confessed to abducting and murdering the two on the orders of the then Head of the Intelligence and Security Service, Antonio Vieira Lopes. However, on 5 September, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal had to unexpectedly suspend the trial indefinitely as President José Eduardo dos Santos had promoted the former head to the rank of General despite him facing criminal charges for murder at the time. The Luanda Provincial Court stated it did not have jurisdiction to hear a case involving a General.
In terms of the Constitution of Angola, the President must respect the Constitution and laws of the country, and “promote the regular functioning of the organs of the State”, including the judiciary. By promoting the former head of the Intelligence Service to the position of General, President José Eduardo dos Santos has caused a significant delay in access to justice for the families of the men who have waited over two years for this trial. A case that should have been currently heard in the Luanda Provincial Court is now suspended and is likely to be further delayed as the presence of an accused General may mean that the case will have to be heard by a Military Court. This may also mean that it will have to be re-investigated by the military system and that it may not even come before a Military Court for adjudication. President José Eduardo dos Santos’ move of promoting a person on trial for murder has resulted in justice being delayed – and justice delayed is justice denied.
UPDATE: The Angolan President reportedly had the promotion revoked on 22 September 2014 and order an investigation into the process of promotion of the former head of the Intelligence Service. Whether this case will now be tried in the Luanda Provincial Court remains to be seen.
Article 108(5) of the Constitution of the Republic of Angola