Over a year ago, in October 2012, Angola’s police force began cracking down on the informal market sector in its capital, Luanda.  The government tolerated the informal market up until 2002, when Angola’s twenty-seven year civil war ended.  Though the informal market grew in the period of peace that followed the war, it was increasingly restricted by the government’s efforts to transition to the formal market.

Of the nearly four million Angolans displaced during the war, the majority were impoverished women who fled to the capital. As a result of few work opportunities and excluded from Angola’s economic boom in 2004, these women resorted to street trading to survive. Participation in the formal sector required a license to sell goods which, in turn, required identification documents. Thus, lacking identification documents, Luanda’s displaced population was excluded from participating in the formal market, leaving the informal sector as the only remaining option.

Angola’s Law on Commercial Activities, enacted in 2007, placed the first restrictions on “ambulant trade,” requiring vendors to be licensed and restricting markets to authorized locations. In 2010 and 2011, two more laws were implemented to restrict informal economic activity: Regulation on Licensing of Commercial Activities and Trade Service Providers and the Law on Administrative Infractions. In 2012, Luanda’s governor issued a new ban on informal street trading, which introduced the following new methods of implementation: removing vendors from the street, registering them, and moving them to authorized markets. Vendors who are still unwilling to cooperate with the transition have since been met with police brutality.

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As Human Rights Watch documented in a recent report, officers often undertake extreme tactics to remove street venders, chasing street vendors away with batons, beating people and seizing goods along the way. The excess use of force is prohibited under Article 3 of Southern Africa’s Police Code as well as the Angolan Constitution, which enshrines the right to physical freedom and personal security. It is not uncommon for women to sell goods while carrying children on their backs or while pregnant. These women are, however, more vulnerable to beatings since they are unable to run away from the police as quickly.

In early 2013, street vendors marched in protest of the beating of a woman eight months pregnant, which caused her to miscarry. This use of force, which targets women and jeopardizes children, infringes on the personal security and additional protections afforded to women and children under the UN and the African Charter, both of which Angola ratified, as well as Angola’s own Constitution.  These rights include the freedom from any form of violence or other mechanism by which a person is subjected to cruel or inhuman treatment.  The Angolan government, in failing to prosecute or otherwise punish officers who defy these laws, is perceived as providing immunity and deters vendors from filing complaints.