Angola Table of Contents
The Ministry of Justice administered the civil legal and penal systems, although its jurisdictional boundaries with the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the regional military councils were unclear. The civilian court system, known as the People's Revolutionary Tribunal (Tribunal Popular Révolucionario), was established in 1976 to deal with capital offenses against national security. These courts had jurisdiction over crimes against the security of the state, mercenary activities, war crimes, and so-called crimes against humanity, and they could unilaterally assume jurisdiction over any criminal case that had a significant impact on national security (see Judicial System , ch. 4). Such tribunals, composed of three to five judges, were established in each provincial capital but administered by a national directorate in Luanda. In late 1988, Fernando José de Franca Dias Van Dúnem had been minster of justice since February 1986, when he had succeeded Diógenes Boavida.
In 1983 military tribunals were set up in each military region and empowered to try crimes against the security of the state, including alleged offenses committed on behalf of UNITA such as terrorism, espionage, treason, sabotage, destabilization, and armed rebellion; "economic crimes" such as speculation, hoarding, and currency violations; disobedience of directives from the regional military council; and other acts that might "damage or endanger the interests of collective defense and security." The independence of the judicial structure and process was severely circumscribed by political control of the court system and the fact that the judges of the military tribunals were military officers whose appointment, reassignment, and removal were controlled by the minister of defense. Military courts frequently handed down death sentences, which were usually carried out by firing squad. Although persons sentenced to death by military courts were legally entitled to automatic appeal to the Armed Forces Military Tribunal, the highest military court, such appeals were not known to have been lodged.
Article 23 of the Constitution provides that citizens shall not be arrested and tried except in accordance with the terms of law and states the right of accused persons to legal defense. However, the extent to which these provisions were observed was uncertain. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, reported the detention without charge or trial of dozens of political prisoners and trials by military tribunals of hundreds who were not given adequate opportunity to prepare their defense or appeal sentences.
Angolan law provided that persons suspected of having committed serious crimes against the security of the state could be detained without charge by the Ministry of State Security for up to three months and that this period could be extended an additional three months. Unlike common criminals, such detainees did not have to be brought before a judge within forty-eight hours of arrest and could not challenge the basis of detention. Political prisoners had to be informed of the accusations against them after six months in detention and then had to be referred to a public prosecutor or released. If charges were pressed, there was no stated time period within which a trial had to be held, and delays of several years were common.
Data as of February 1989