LUANDA - Angolan police frequently beat and extort street vendors, especially women and children, who are falling victim to a government push to stamp out the informal sector, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
The New York-based rights group said the abuses include arbitrary arrest and were most likely to happen to the thousands of women known as 'zungueiras', many of them pregnant or carrying children, who eke out a living in the capital, Luanda.
Africa's second biggest oil-producer after Nigeria, Angola has posted rapid growth since the end of a 27-year civil war in 2002, but long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is routinely accused of doing too little to fight poverty or respect human rights.
"Street traders in Luanda experience daily roundups by police and government inspectors who routinely use excessive force and subject traders to humiliating and degrading treatment," the group said in a report.
Requests for comment from the government and police went unanswered.
HRW said the abuse had increased since October 2012, when the government announced measures to end informal trading by removing hawkers from the streets, registering them, and moving them to new or renovated formal markets.
Many vendors want to obtain licences but cannot do so as they do not have identity cards, while those who have applied for the permits found the process bureaucratic, opaque and inaccessible, it added.
Journalists, activists and witnesses who seek to document the abuses in what is one of Africa's most authoritarian states have also been harassed and arrested, it said.
The rights group urged the government to end the abuse, which also involves government inspectors, discipline those responsible and supervise further inspections.
Dos Santos has been in power since 1979 and has dominated elections since the end of the war. He has promised to distribute Angola's wealth and create jobs in an economy which remains heavily dependent on oil.