As Pope Benedict XVI visits Angola on Friday on his first trip to Africa, he faces calls to raise the question of forced evictions with the Angolan authorities.
In particular, Amnesty International has asked that during his visit, Pope Benedict addresses the issue of those forced evictions that have been linked to the Catholic Church.
From 2003 to 2006, the Angolan authorities forcibly evicted thousands of people in the Angolan capital of Luanda from land belonging to the Catholic Church.
The evictions were carried out without due process, with the unlawful use of firearms and excessive force and in the absence of a programme to provide alternative accommodation or compensation to those affected.
Residents attempting to protect their homes in the Palanca, Sapú and Wenji Maka neighbourhoods in the Kilamba Kiaxia Municipality were shot at indiscriminately by police. The evictions sometimes involved the police beatings of women and children.
The land belonged to the Catholic Church before Angola was granted its independence from Portugal in 1975. It was returned to the Church by the government of Angola in 1998 in response to a request by the late Pope John Paul II during his visit to Angola in 1992. The evictions were carried out to enable the Catholic Church to use the land for its projects.
When granting the land title to the Catholic Church, the Angolan authorities did not take into consideration those people who had lived in the area for decades in abject poverty. By carrying out the evictions in this manner, the authorities violated the residents' human rights.
Forced evictions have the effect of sending those already living in poverty, deeper into poverty and often leave people at risk of damage to their health, unemployment, and children unable to continue their education.
There have also been forced evictions in other areas of Luanda, not related to the Catholic Church, as the Angolan government has developed urban land. Although there has been a decrease in the number of such evictions since 2006, thousands of people continue to live under the threat of forced evictions. Furthermore, there is still no law specifically prohibiting forced evictions in Angola and no legal provision for security of tenure.
Amnesty International has monitored forced evictions in Luanda since 2001 and documented them in two reports. The second, Angola: Lives in Ruins: Forced evictions continue, was published in February 2007. It documented forced evictions in Luanda between 2004 and March 2006; and specifically referred to those evictions involving the Catholic Church.
No further evictions have been carried out in these areas since the report. However, no firm commitment has been made by the Catholic Church or the Angolan authorities to the effect that families in these areas will no longer be subjected to forced evictions.
There has been no compensation given to families who were forcibly evicted or whose property was damaged during the forced evictions. Thousands of families affected by forced evictions in these areas remain without any remedy.
In a letter to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State to Pope Benedict on 20 February 2009, Amnesty International requested that Pope Benedict raise the question of forced evictions with the Angolan authorities during his visit.
The organization also requested the Vatican to make a firm commitment regarding the land in Angola belonging to the Catholic Church and ensure that any future evictions from this land are carried out in accordance with international human rights standards.
In addition, the organization urged that Pope Benedict uses his influence with the authorities to call for them to take steps to end forced evictions and adequately realise the right to adequate housing, as well as to provide effective remedies for families who have been affected by forced evictions.