Supporting war resisters in Angola
by Andreas Speck
Every year War Resisters' International tries to highlight the situation of conscientious objectors in one country. We do this to raise awareness for a struggle that doesn't get the public attention it deserves. While war criminals - be they presidents of their countries or just warlords - receive massive attention by the media and by the militarists who form our governments, deserters, draft evaders and conscientious objectors, peace activists working at the grassroots, receive no to little attention. But we as War Resisters' believe that peace has to be built from the grassroots - by those who refuse to kill - and cannot be achieved by those benefiting from waging wars - or supplying the weapons needed to fight wars.
Last year we focused on the situation in Turkey. At the same time we commemorated here, Turkish antimilitarists publicly declared their conscientious objection during an antimilitarist festival in Istanbul, supported by an international delegation organised by WRI.
This year we are focussing on the situation in Angola, a country at war for more than 35 years now. A war, far away from Europe, and far away from places where we go to enjoy our holidays. And so why should we bother? Why bother, that more than 3.5 million people have been displaced as a result of this war, almost 40% of Angola's population? Why bother about a war, that left more than half a million people dead; why bother about a war that is internationally recognised as the bloodiest and most sophisticated of all African wars? Why bother, business is going well, we - the civilized Western countries, profit from oil deals, diamond trade and - of course - the bloody business of trading weapons. Why bother, when Angolan refugees knock at our borders, asking for asylum - we can just send them back to this war, were the life of a human being doesn't count anyway.
It is obvious that in such a country there is no right to conscientious objection. Not only the government forces use some sort of conscription, the rebel forces of UNITA also fill their ranks by means of forced recruitment. How does this work? Quite easily, and very non-bureaucratic: either government forces or UNITA just raid a quarter of a city - of course not the wealthy areas, but the suburbs and shantytowns - or villages, and "recruit" all men suitable for fighting, no matter if they are just 14 years old or 35. This "simple" system of conscription doesn't provide any regulation for an alternative service on grounds of conscientious objection; those who refuse are either shot on the spot, send to dangerous war zones without training, or put into prison for years, which often includes being beaten. "Conscientious objection" under these circumstances means, to hide somewhere when the military raids your quarter or village, to flee into the bush, to flee abroad.
Draft evasion or desertion here sends an important political message to the military leaders: we don't want to fight your war, we don't want to kill fellow human beings in order to support your power play, to secure your profits from diamond trade or oil business. After 35 years of war we want to live in peace!
A few month's ago, in January this year, Holden Roberto, veteran of the Angolan armed liberation struggle for independence, called on the soldiers of all armed forces in Angola to dispose of their weapons, to finally end this war, to "dialogue and discuss all our problems, differences and grievances, as brothers, sisters and children of this country". But yesterdays Guardian again reported the killing of 100 people and the captivation of 60 children - boys and girls - by UNITA forces; it could have been government forces as well.
War Resisters' International tries to support the small but active peace groups in Angola. In July this year we will visit these groups in Angola to discuss further cooperation and practical support to deserters and peace activists.
Through our Conscientious Objection and Conscription Documentation Project we try o support draft evaders and deserters from Angola seeking asylum in our rich and safe countries - although with little success. Those who always talk about peace and taking responsibility from their comfortable offices in Downing Street, in the White House or the chancellors office in Berlin refuse to give shelter to those from the war torn country of Angola, who refused to participate in this war and took responsibility to take part in building peace. Refusing to kill doesn't give you the right to asylum in our so-called liberal democracy.
We therefore call on you to support us in our struggle for the right of asylum on grounds of desertion or conscientious objection. We call on you to support asylum seekers and illegalised refugees who fled from participating in a war. Not these illegal refugees are criminal, but the EU and British authorities who don't hesitate to send them back, while at the same time doing bloody deals with the Angolan government or UNITA.
We strongly believe that it is us as war resisters who have to support each other worldwide in order to achieve peace. Refusing to bear arms is a first and important step.