top of page

CRSV: Angolan Civil War

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The civil war in Angola lasted 27 years, from 1975 to 2002. The conflict was fought over natural resources, and was aggravated significantly by drought and famine. It began after Angola became independent from Portugal in November 1975 – and continued as a power struggle between two former anti-colonial guerrilla movements, namely the Cuban and Soviet Union-backed Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) and the South Africa and US-backed União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola (UNITA) and Frente Nacional para a Libertação de Angola (FNLA; Uppsala Conflict Data, n.d.). In effect, it was used as a surrogate battleground for the Cold War by these states. The MPLA and UNITA had different ethnic roots in Angolan society – and though they shared the common aim of doing away with Portuguese colonialism, they did not have other commonalities. FNLA did not play a role in the civil war though it fought in the war for independence. MPLA won the initial phases of fighting with help from Brazil and the USSR (US Department of Army, 1977), and ousted FNLA, thus becoming the de facto Angolan government. With that, the FNLA disintegrated, but UNITA and MPLA continued to engage in irregular war (UNHCR 2000).

In 1989, a ceasefire was signed between MPLA and UNITA, and Cuba withdrew troops in 1991. MPLA won the elections in 1992, but UNITA resumed fighting. The war, by this time, had been fuelled by the fight for control over Angola’s rich diamond and oil resources. In 1994, the Lusaka Peace Protocol was signed, but full-scale conflict continued again in 1998. In 2002, a ceasefire took hold.

Over the period of the conflict, 1 million people were killed, 4 million displaced, and about 100,000 children were displaced (IRIN, 2004; UNSC, 2002; UNOCHA, 2002).

Prevalence of Sexual violence

Sexual violence prevailed during various stages in the conflict, and continued even after the peace agreement was signed (Human Rights Watch, 1999; 2003b). Women were abducted, faced sexual violence, assault, and slavery, and forced marriage, and women and girls were either forcibly recruited and conscripted as combatants or abducted and forced into marriage with combatants (Human Rights Watch, 2003b). Sexual violence was committed both by the government and by UNITA, and often took place in homes, out in the fields, and near military camps United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 2003).

Displaced populations were equally vulnerable – both in flight and following resettlement (UNOCHA 2002). Men who were detained also faced sexual violence (Human Rights Watch 2004). There were increases in the number of instances of violence, trafficking, and prostitution (UNHCHR, 2003). In 2003, between 5,000 and 8,000 underage wives remained married to UNITA soldiers (Human Rights Watch, 2003a).

By 2004, the conflict in the DR Congo bore impacts in Angola as well – as women reported rape at the hands of the security forces on either side of the border, who searched them for hidden diamonds (IRIN News, 2004). Each year, tens of thousands of women crossed the border from the DRC into Angola to work in the diamond mines (MSF, 2007). These women were often expelled – but not without facing some form of sexual violence at the hands of the security sector (MSF, 2007).

Basis of Sexual Violence

During the civil war, sexual violence was used as a means to demonstrate power and control, to intimidate populations, and to humiliate populations. Women and girls were abducted and forced into marriage with combatants of the army, suggesting sexual slavery with the intention of breaking down the social order.

In camps, both for refugees and internally displaced people, sexual violence was often carried out opportunistically and in the form of prostitution and sex slavery where women were forced to have sex in exchange for food.

Sexual violence was widespread, but there isn’t any documented evidence that Angolan officials ordered the systematic use of sexual violence to expel women from the DR Congo (Human Rights Watch, 2013). However, there are several eyewitness accounts suggesting that the Angolan security sector involved in expulsion operations abused their authority and power (Human Rights Watch, 2012; 2013).


  1. Africa, Problems & Prospects: A Bibliographic Survey. U.S. Department of the Army. 1977.

  2. Human Rights Watch (1999) Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process.

  3. Human Rights Watch (2003a). Forgotten Fighters: Child Soldiers in Angola.

  4. Human Rights Watch (2003b). Human Rights Developments: ANGOLA.

  5. Human Rights Watch (2004) Angola: Between War and Peace in Cabinda.

  6. Human Rights Watch (2012). “„If You Come Back We Will Kill You‟: Sexual Violence and Other Abuses against Congolese Migrants during Expulsions from Angola,” May 2012,

  7. Human Rights Watch (2013). Human Rights Issues Regarding Angola Submitted by Human Rights Watch to the UN Human Rights Committee.

  8. IRIN (2004) “Our Bodies – Their Battle Ground: Gender-based Violence in Conflict Zones”, Web Special.

  9. IRIN News (2004) “Angola-DRC: MSF-B says Angola expels more miners”, IRIN News, 21 April 2004:

  10. MSF (2007). The Women Testify,

  11. United Nations Commission on Human Rights (2003). “International, regional and national developments in the area of violence against women 1994-2003”, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/52, E/CN.4/2003/75/Add.1, 27 February 2003

  12. United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (2003). E/CN.4/2003/75/Add.1.

  13. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR. (2000). "Refworld | Angola: Current political and human rights conditions in Angola". Refworld.

  14. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2002) Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal 2002: Angola, New York and Geneva, 19.

  15. United Nations Security Council (2002) Interim report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Angola, S/2002/1353, 12 December 2002.

  16. Uppsala Conflict Data "Angola General Conflict Information". Uppsala Conflict Data Program.

bottom of page