2006 Civil Courage Prize Honoree
Rafael Marques de Morais
Angolan journalist who exposed the slaughter of his countrymen, the plundering of the country's wealth, and the corruption of its regime.
An Award Ceremony was held in New York City on October 18th, 2006.
Year 2006 Award Recipient
Rafael Marques de Morais is a tenacious leader in the struggle for reform of Angola’s repressive and corrupt government, whose President, Eduardo dos Santos, was last elected in 1992. The 35-year old Marques is a journalist, public official, and representative of humanitarian organizations whose career has been marked by conflicts with the government of Angola, where, Marques says, "corruption can be defined ... as the main institution of the state." Himself a victim of the regime, Marques was imprisoned in 1999 for 40 days without charges, ten of them incommunicado, after he said in a newspaper article that the President was responsible "for the destruction of the country" and "accountable for the promotion of incompetence, embezzlement and corruption."
He was tried and convicted of the charge of abuse of the press resulting in "injury" to the President. On appeal, his sentence was suspended and he was ordered to pay damages to the President. His imprisonment became a landmark case in the quest for freedom of expression in Angola. The publicity surrounding the case generated an unprecedented level of attention from humanitarian groups worldwide to press freedom in Angola. His case was presented by the Open Society Justice Initiative and INTERIGHTS to the UN Human Rights Committee, and resulted in a ruling that Angola had violated the freedom of expression of a journalist and a call for broad liberalization of the Angolan regime.
After his release from detention, Marques turned his attention to efforts to end the civil war in Angola. He organized a coalition of 250 religious and civic leaders who called for a peaceful settlement.
A successor group, launched in 2001, stimulated the first public, independent discussion of the war and took its call for a ceasefire to Lisbon and the European Parliament.
The situation in Angola has attracted wide international attention, partly as a result of Marques’ staunch efforts to call attention to abuses there. John Reed of the Financial Times wrote last year that "with oil companies jostling for concessions, there are concerns that a country regarded as one of the most corrupt is under little pressure to improve governance."
Decimated by the brutal civil war that raged for 30 years before and after independence was gained from Portugal, Angola lost half a million people in that conflict which was supported by the Soviet Union and Western powers and their surrogates. Over four million Angolans were displaced. All but a small part of the population still lives in dire poverty, while Angolan elites have benefited from rising oil and diamond revenues. Angolans reportedly remain deeply skeptical of possibilities for change under the dictatorial regime.
Marques has noted, "This government has always been supported. The only way it has been able to maintain itself is through international forces," an indirect reference to oil and diamond mining interests, including those in the US.
His own greatest impact on the situation came from his work between 1999 and 2002, in the view of his sponsors for the Civil Courage Prize. During those years, with the aid of the Open Society Institute, he wrote extensively about the hardships endured by the populations of oil-rich Cabinda Province and of the Lunda Provinces, a main site of the diamond trade. Despite government revenues in the Lunda region that now exceed $1 billion annually, there has been practically no public investment there over the past four decades. His unvarnished criticisms of the Angolan army's brutality and the malfeasance of the government and foreign oil interests put him at extreme personal risk. However, in 2002 his efforts aided an endeavor in 2003 to discuss elections and to convene a conference on Cabinda Province and reform there.
Marques, who was born in 1971, has pursued a career that has included journalism and acting, in addition to his activities in the sphere of human rights. At the time of the first-ever democratic elections, following the 1991 peace accord signed by the MPLA government and UNITA rebels, he began to work at the Jornal de Angola, the country's only newspaper. In 1992, he covered the meetings between President dos Santos and the UNITA leaders to prevent a return to war. His subsequent involvement in labor disputes at the Jornal in 1995 forced him to leave Angola for a year, whereupon he returned to freelance for Reuters and others, as well as write regularly for weekly independent papers. More recently, he has worked as a representative in Angola for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, where his main aim was to aid in teacher training programs.
At present, Marques is studying at the University of London. His family remains in Angola. His publication of criticisms continues via the worldwide web and other media.
He has participated in a number of meetings on international development. Most recently:
- "Transitions: A Conversation with National Leaders," New York, March 28-29 2005, held by the New York University and the International Peace Academy.
- "Beyond 'Conflict Diamonds:' a New Report on Human Rights and Angolan Diamonds" at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington DC, March 24 2005.
- "Angola's Oil Curse" at the Post-Nobel Conference on "Oil Revenues – From Curse to Blessing for Developing Countries?" AlterNet.org, Marques, Rafael, December 17, 2004.
He has researched, coordinated and edited the following four human rights reports on Angola, which also address the impact of oil and diamonds in the increase of human rights abuses in regions where such wealth abounds:
- 2006 – The Diamonds of Humiliation and Misery. The report can be found in its entirety at www.cuango.net
- 2005 – Angola's deadly diamonds: Lundas, the stones of death. The report can be found in its entirety on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars website [PDF 448kb; documents in PDF format require Adobe's Acrobat Reader].
- 2004 – Cabinda – A year of pain
- 2003 – Terror in Cabinda
In 2000, the National Association of Black Journalists of the United States presented Marques with the Percy Qoboza Award for Outstanding Courage, while the European Parliament bestowed upon him the Freedom Passport.
— Return to top —
Rafael Marques de Morais
Honoree Rafael Marques with NPF Trustees Enid Schoettle, John Train (Chairman) Virginia Armat Hurt, Ann Brownell Sloane and Ariadne Calvo-Platero
Rafael Marques accepting congratulations.
Rafael Marques with Keynote Speaker Hodding Carter.
Chairman John Train addresses the audience.