Marques v. Angola

UN Human Rights Committee

Journalist Imprisoned for Criticism of President

Rafael Marques was imprisoned for publishing a news article critical of the Angolan president. After prolonged pretrial detention, he was convicted of defamation, ordered to pay a substantial fine, and prevented from traveling. The UN Human Rights Committee declared that Angola must provide an effective remedy to Marques for his arbitrary arrest and detention, and for violations of his rights to free expression and movement.


On October 16, 1999, Marques was arrested at gunpoint in Luanda, Angola, and imprisoned, following a newspaper publication of statements by him criticizing Angolan President José dos Santos for corruption. Marques was not informed of the charges against him and was held for ten days without access to a lawyer or his family. His lawyer filed a habeas corpus petition on his behalf, but it was disregarded by the authorities. After 40 days, under pressure from the U.S. State Department, OSI, and others, Angolan authorities released Marques on the condition that he not "create a risk of future similar violations." Marques was then charged with defaming the president, but convicted on additional charges including "abuse of the press" resulting in "injury" to the president. The Supreme Court confirmed his conviction.

At trial, Marques sought to introduce evidence of the truthful, good-faith nature of his statements, but the court barred it according to Article 46 of Angola's Press Law. Unable to put on a defense for his client, Marques's lawyer resigned in protest, and—without Marques's consent—the court assigned an unqualified bailiff to represent Marques for the remainder of trial.

Marques was sentenced to a six-month prison term, suspended on appeal, and ordered to pay substantial damages and costs to the president. In December 2000 Marques was prevented from leaving Angola, and his passport was confiscated until the end of February 2001.

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

The Open Society Justice Initiative and Interights represented Marques before the United Nations Human Rights Committee arguing that his rights had been violated.


Arbitrary arrest and detention. Marques's arrest and detention were not reasonable, proportionate, or necessary, nor was he promptly informed of the charges against him, in violation of Article 9(1) and 9(2) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (right to liberty & security of person).

Appearance before a judge. Marques was subjected to pretrial detention, in part incommunicado, was not brought promptly before a judge, and was prevented from challenging the lawfulness of his detention, in violation of Article 9(3) and 9(4) ICCPR (rights of persons in custody).

Fair trial. Marques was not tried publicly, was improperly charged, was prevented from raising the defense of truth and from selecting his own defense counsel, and was unable to appeal his conviction, in violation of Article 14 ICCPR (right to a fair trial).

Freedom of expression. Marques's freedom of speech was restricted by his arrest, detention, conviction, and restraint from travel, without a justification provided in law and necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose, in violation of Article 19 ICCPR (right to freedom of expression).

Freedom of movement. Marques's right to travel was restricted by the confiscation of his passport, without justification in law, in violation of Article 12 ICCPR (right to free movement).

The Human Rights Committee found that Angola had violated Articles 9, 12, and 19 of the ICCPR for a number of reasons.

Liberty. Marques's arrest and detention were not reasonable or necessary, and were therefore arbitrary infringements of his liberty and security in violation of Article 9(1); he was not promptly informed of the reasons for his arrest or the charges against him, in violation of Article 9(2); his incommunicado detention denied him the right to be brought before a judge, in violation of Article 9(3); he was denied counsel at an initial stage, and denied his right to habeas corpus in violation of Article 9(4).

Expression. The restrictions on Marques's speech were not provided for in law or necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, violating his right to criticize or publicly evaluate the government without fear of punishment, in contravention of Article 19(2).

Movement. Marques's prevention from leaving Angola, and the subsequent confiscation of his passport, had no basis in law and violated his freedom of movement under Article 12(1).

In light of these violations, Angola was given 90 days to comply with the following recommendations from the committee requiring compensation for Marques, the prevention of similar violations in the future, and the publication of the committee's views.


Angola failed to comply with the recommendations. The Justice Initiative and Interights undertook a series of measures in order to secure implementation of the views.

In August 2009, the Justice Initiative and Interights wrote an open letter to the Angolan president reminding him of the country's obligation to ensure an effective and enforceable remedy to violations of Marques's rights. The letter—also released to the press—made a series of specific implementation demands on Angola.

In November 2005, as no response had been received from the Angolan government, the Justice Initiative and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) met with the Angolan ambassador to the U.N. The Justice Initiative reminded the ambassador of Angola's statements of commitment to the effective functioning of the U.N. human rights system, and expressed its hope that Angola would demonstrate this commitment by complying with the committee's views in the Marques case.

In May 2006, Angola submitted a response to the views of the committee, which merely reproduced Angola's initial arguments in the case. The Justice Initiative made a submission to the committee urging it to continue pressing Angola to comply with its decision and expressing the Justice Initiative's willingness to assist.

In May 2006, amendments to Angola's Press Law entered into force, which took steps toward preventing the restrictions on expression that Marques suffered:

  • Journalists were permitted to prove the truth of the facts reported as a defense in cases of alleged defamation of the president of Angola.
  • Public TV and radio were created, to be governed by principles of free public debate, such as ensuring plurality of opinions, accurate information, and "politically balanced information during election periods."
  • The state monopoly over TV broadcasting was eliminated.

In June 2007 the Justice Initiative wrote to the Special Rapporteur for Follow-Up on Views, noting that although the amendments were positive, Angola continued to criminalize defamation, and noted the need for Angola's laws to be fully protective of freedom of expression.

February 01, 2006

Angola amends its Press Law.

June 01, 2005

Deadline for Angola to publish and comply with the committee's views.

March 01, 2005

Committee delivers views in favor of Marques.

September 01, 2002

Communication submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

December 01, 2000

Marques is prevented from leaving Angola and his passport is confiscated.

October 01, 2000

Marques is convicted on multiple counts under Angola's Press and Penal Laws for abuse of the press causing injury to the president. The Supreme Court upholds the conviction.

February 11, 2010
Briefing Paper on Implementation Download the two-page document. Download
August 29, 2005
Letter to Government of Angola Justice Initiative, August 29, 2005 Download
September 05, 2002
Communication Download the 42-page document. Download

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