Country report and updates: Angola

Last revision: 06 Jul 1998
06 Jul 1998

Shortly after achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, armed conflict broke out between the Peoples' Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The civil war lasted nearly 20 years, in which the MPLA controlled the majority of the country and the UNITA fought a guerrilla war against the government forces. The war ended with the 1 May 1991 Bicesse peace accords, which led to presidential elections in 1992. After these, UNITA withdrew its troops from the united Angolan armed forces and new armed conflict broke out, lasting until the November 1994 Lusaka peace accords.

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Conscription is referred to in art. 152 of the 1992 Constitution, which states: "1. The defence of the country is the right and the highest and indeclinable duty of every citizen. 2. Military service is compulsory. The terms of its accomplishment are defined by law."

Before May 1991, when conscription was abandoned as part of the Bicesse peace process, it was regulated by Law no. 12/82 (Lei General do Servicio Militar). Conscription was re-introduced in 1993 and the 1982 Law on military service was replaced by Law 1/93 on 26 March 1993. [17] [16] [9]

military service

According to Law 1/93 only men between the ages of 20 and 45 can be called up. [17] [9]

Another source states that women aged 20 to 45 years may also be called up, but they are actually not recruited. [16]

Those over 30 serve only in the Reserve Force. [6]

Military service lasts for 3 years; but 4 years for higher ranks, and some may be retained longer. [1]

Military service lasts for 2 years in the army, 3 years in the navy and air force. [9]

A service without the use of arms seems possible. [8]

postponement and exemption

No information about this is available.


According to a Ministry of Defence Decree no. 29/97, recruitment and incorporation into the armed forces may take place five times a year; two times for soldiers and three times for officers. The number of men to be annually incorporated will be fixed by the Council of Ministers (art. 4). [19]

March and September are the months for military recruitment. [7]

In June 1993 the conscription programme was intensified to recruit 10,000 youth, but three months later only 40 percent of that number had actually joined. Potential conscripts in government controlled regions showed a marked reluctance to join the armed forces. [9]

forced recruitment

Rusgas, the press-ganging of youth into joining the armed forces, were common practice before the 1 May 1991 peace agreement. When conscription was reintroduced in 1993, the forced recruitment campaigns were continued. There were several reports in 1994 that these campaigns consisted of press-ganging young boys into joining the armed forces. [10] [16]

Reports indicate that although the government has stopped sweeping Luanda city centre for recruits, recruitment still takes place in some suburbs and is widespread practice throughout the country. Often minors are recruited by force. Armed forces' commanders are reported to pay police officers to find new recruits, who can only avoid forced recruitment by paying a higher price. [18]

Despite the conscription age of 20, there are reports of children as young as 14 being forced to enlist. [5] [18]

2 Conscientious objection

There is no legal provision for conscientious objection and no substitute service. [1] [12]

The constitution does not mention an alternative to military service. Individuals who, for some reason, cannot participate in military service, have to apply to the Minister of Defence for exemption. [4]

Official sources in Angola suggest a substitute service is possible.

According to the Angolan government in 1994, "there are no problems with conscientious objection to military service in Angola. Those who refuse to bear arms are asked to serve in the administrative sector." [8]

According to the Chief of the General Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces, "art. 10 of the 1993 Law on Military Service lays down that conscientious objectors, including Jehovah's Witnesses, are not obliged to perform normal military service, but for the period of time intended for compulsory military service must perform community service. This service is performed in a civilian capacity and within a civilian regime in hospitals, civil construction companies and institutions providing relief and public assistance to the victims of catastrophes and natural disasters. In order to better regulate the community service performed by conscientious objectors, the Council of Ministers is debating the law on conscientious objection, with regard to the principles already laid down in the laws mentioned above. At present, conscientious objectors in the Angolan armed forces are no longer brought to trial, as the current law does not allow it; they perform Auxiliary Community Service, to which they consent. There is certainly no longer any kind of legal or illegal repression, as the officially recognised Directorate of the Church of Jehovah's Witnesses in Angola would be able to confirm." [7]

However, according to the Watch Tower, Jehovah's Witnesses are sometimes imprisoned. [21]

Also the British Section of Amnesty International stated in 1994 that there is no provision for conscientious objectors and no civilian alternative to military service. Those who object to conscription are punished by being sent to the most dangerous war zones without military training. [14]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


Draft evasion and desertion are punishable under the 28 January 1994 Military penal code (Lei dos Crimes Militares No. 4/94). Failing to perform military service is punishable by 3 days' to 2 years' imprisonment, after which a new call-up for military service may be issued (art. 29). [13]

Desertion in peacetime is punishable by 2 years' to 8 years' imprisonment. [13] [16] [7]

In wartime or during military operations the punishment may vary between 8 and 12 years' imprisonment. [13] [16]


Several amnesty laws have been issued. On 12 July 1991 all who were draft evaders, conscientious objectors and deserters from before the signing of the 1 May 1991 peace treaty, were amnestied. [3]

Similarly, after the signing of the Lusaka Protocol, the 10 November 1994 amnesty law amnestied draft evaders and deserters from the period between 1 October 1992 and 20 November 1994. [17]


It is not known whether amnesties have granted in practice.

According to the Angolan armed forces, prison sentences for deserters in practice never exceed 4 years. Once half the sentence has been served, prisoners are granted conditional release. [7]

A Human Rights Watch researcher noted in 1994 that this is just 'theory', and that the treatment in individual cases may vary, depending for example on the area or the particular army commander involved. There were massive desertions and the prisons were already too full. In practice deserters were often beaten up badly and re-conscripted. [11]

During the armed conflict draft evasion and desertion were often punished by sending the conscript to the war front. [12]

4 Forced recruitment by UNITA and FLEC

Despite the 1994 peace agreement UNITA is still recruiting new soldiers. Forced recruitment of children (boys and girls) is widespread, especially in the UNITA controlled areas, the northern provinces of Zaire and Uige. In 1995 the case of an 11-year-old boy recruited by force into UNITA's troops was reported. They are recruited for combat tasks or as porters. The latter are mainly young women carrying weapons and ammunition to the UNITA troops. [18]

UNITA does not allow civilians to leave the UNITA controlled areas freely. [18]

It has been reported that the service in the UNITA forces is 'indefinite' and that deserters have been beaten up badly and re-conscripted. [11]

There is no information available about the recruitment practices of the factions of the Liberation Front of the Cabinda Enclave (FLEC). The FLEC are responsible for terrorist attacks. [15]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces of Angola comprise about 110,500 troops - nearly one percent of the population. A unified national 90,000 strong army is planned to include 18,500 UNITA troops, but in May 1997 only 10,600 UNITA soldiers had been integrated into the national armed forces. A further 24,000 plus an additional 35,000 UNITA troops await demobilisation. [20]

The FLEC troops were estimated to include 500 combatants in 1991. [15]

Every year approximately 105,000 men reach conscription age (20). [20]


[1] Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service. AI, London, UK. [2] Amnesty International 1991. Angola: Human Rights Guarantees in the Revised Constitution. AI, London, UK (AFR 12/04/91). [3] Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1991. Ambtsbericht Angola, 29 November 1991. The Hague, Netherlands. [4] IRBDC 1992. Telephone Interview with Mission of Angola to the USA representative, New York, 20 May 1992. [5] Woods, D.E. 1993. Child Soldiers, the recruitment of children into the armed forces and their participation in hostilities. Quaker Peace and Service, London, UK. [6] Amnesty International German Section 1993. Lagebericht Angola, 31 August 1993. [7] Letter from the Office of the Chief of the General Staff of the Angolan Armed Forces to the British Embassy in Luanda, 24 November 1993. [8] UN Commission on Human Rights 1994. Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/84 (and Addendum). United Nations, Geneva. [9] UNHCR Documentation Centre 1994. Angola - background information on conscription. UNHCR, Geneva. AGO3, 5 April 1994. [10] UNHCR Documentation Centre 1994. Angola - are 'rusgas' still going on? UNHCR, Geneva. AGO2, 5 April 1994. [11] UNHCR Documentation Centre 1994. Angola - Information on punishment for deserters. UNHCR, Geneva. AGO6, 12 August 1994. [12] Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1994. Ambtsbericht Angola, 7 November 1994. The Hague, Netherlands. [13] Amnesty International German Section 1994. Letter to Verwaltungsgericht Göttingen, AFR 12-94.550. [14] UNHCR Documentation Centre 1994. Angola - information regarding provisions for conscientious objection. UNHCR, Geneva. AGO11, 16 December 1994. [15] DIRB, 1995 DIRB, 15 November 1995. [16] Federal Office for Refugees of Switzerland 1996. Country Information Sheet Angola. [17] Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1996. Ambtsbericht Angola, 25 April 1996. The Hague, Netherlands. [18] Human Rights Watch/Africa 1996. Angola, Between War and Peace: Arms Trade and Human Rights Abuses since the Lusaka Protocol. Human Rights Watch/Africa, New York. [19] Diário da República, Serie I, No. 29, 20 June 1997. Angolan Ministry of National Defence - Executive Decree No. 29/97. [20] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK. [21] Watch Tower 1998. Letter to Glazer Delmar Solicitors, 27 January 1998. London, UK.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Angola

01 Sep 2009

Executive summary

This submission focusses on the treatment of conscientious objectors and
others who seek to avoid military service in Angola.

15 May 2001

by Andreas Speck

01 May 2001

Emanuel Matondo

On this year's 15th of May, the International Conscientious Objectors Day, I would like to recall all the pacifists, antimilitarist activists and human rights defenders the impunity in which the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other acts of cruelty are still living today in Angola.