Read, Debate: Engage.

Who Will Protect Mozambicans From Atrocities Of Their Own Security Forces?

September 17th, 2020
topic:Political violence
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Mozambique
tags:atrocities

International human rights groups have raised serious concerns over reports suggesting that Mozambique’s security forces have been committing gross human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, as they try to put down a four year-old insurgency in the north-most part of the vast southern African nation.

On September 09, Amnesty International asked the Mozambican government to order its forces to stop human rights violations as well as to investigate and prosecute those involved in acts of torture and killings that have taken place in the troubled area.

“Amnesty International is calling on authorities to immediately order security forces to cease all ill-treatment of detainees and other human rights violations in Cabo Delgado and investigate and prosecute all those responsible for the torture or extrajudicial executions of detainees,” the global human rights watchdog said in a statement prompted by several videos and pictures of armed men in Mozambican military fatigues committing shocking atrocities against detainees and other citizens.

Amnesty International based its claim on videos that show “the attempted beheading, torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners; the dismemberment of alleged opposition fighters; possible extrajudicial executions; and the transport and discarding of a large number of corpses into apparent mass graves”.

“This behaviour flouts fundamental principles of humanity,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s regional director for East and Southern Africa, adding that the abuses committed by the insurgents “can never justify further violations by the security forces of Mozambique”.

Same Tactics As Insurgents?

Since October 2017, an armed group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna (supporters of the tradition, and also known locally as Al-Shabaab) which is allegedly affiliated with the armed group calling itself Islamic State of Central Africa Province, has attacked government forces and civilians in Cabo Delgado, the northern province of Mozambique where large gas reserves have been discovered.

Over the years the group has been accused of committing hundreds of human rights abuses during the conflict, including the beheading of civilians. According to Amnesty International, in a pattern also seen in Nigeria and Cameroon, government security forces in Mozambique have responded with similar tactics.

The Videos, Pictures “Fake”

The Defence Ministry spokesperson, Omar Saranga, rejected the charges raised by Amnesty International, saying the videos were “fake”.

In his statement broadcast on the national television, Saranga said the videos of torture and other abuses should not be regarded as definitive proof, “bearing in mind that one of the tactics used by the terrorists in their macabre attacks against the population is to pass themselves off as members of the defence and security forces, in an attempt to confuse national and international public opinion.”

He added that the Mozambican Defence Forces “recognise Amnesty International as a relevant actor in the pursuit of international humanitarian law” but the reliance on videos and photographs failed to take into account “the nature of the propaganda of the terrorist group operating in Cabo Delgado, which seeks to denigrate the defence and security forces”.

However a day after the denial, a fresh video emerged in which soldiers were savagely beating a naked woman before shooting her 36 times to her death.

This video prompted the defence ministry to condemn the footage as a “shocking, abusive, disgusting and horrifying” act that should be investigated.

However shortly after, Mozambique’s Defence minister Jaime Neto indicated that they were instead investigating the origins of the videos, which he insisted to be fake.

“Some Mozambicans make and assemble these images and send them abroad,” Neto charged. “We know who they are. We shall expose them one day, and we shall pick them up because they are attacking the Mozambican nation.”

Possible Causes of The Insurgency

The motives of the insurgency are not clearly understood but, but it is generally understood that the group is rebelling against neglect by the country’s leadership that is based in the capital Maputo, some 1,700 km away. Cabo Delgado province borders Tanzania and is home to 2.3 million people, a majority of about 60 percent being Muslims.

While religion could be playing a fundamental role in the conflict, analysts believe the most important factors in the insurgency also include widespread social, economic and political problems in this vast country that was a Portuguese colony for 470 years until 1975. Increasing inequalities have led many young people to be easily attracted by such a radical movement, as Ansar al-Sunna promises that its form of Islam will act as “antidote” to the existing “corrupt, elitist rule”.

However there are also suggestions that the insurgency could be a conspiracy by some shadowy international groups seeking to share in the multi-billion dollar gas windfall.

“For now it remains unclear whether the terrorist attacks in the region are more closely connected to radical Islamists from the north or organized crime using Islamism as a cover,” wrote Andrew McGregor, a security expert. “The intention could be to create enough insecurity to delay the development of a legitimate industry that could threaten their operations. It has been suggested elsewhere that the insurgency is designed to facilitate the entry of private military firms into the region and enable their exploitation of local energy resources.” 

Security Force Never Popular With Locals

According to information supplied to this writer earlier in the year by researchers from Observatório do Meio Rural (Rural Observatory) (OMR), a Mozambican non-governmental organisation, the military deployment only served to build a groundswell of disgruntlement within both the military and the general citizenry.

“In fact the military on the ground complain of being underpaid and of problems of logistical supply. In the case of death or injury, family is left unprotected.  The military claims that the money support stays with their officers, who are taking advantage of the situation,” OMR researchers said in a written response.

According to these researchers, the military deployments have also caused anger within the local communities. “Some peasants complain of theft and extortion of money by the military. News reports and WhatsApp videos indicate the general feeling that military are not adequately protecting populations by avoiding confrontation with insurgents.”

Members of Mozambique’s army and police force are among the lowest paid in the country, and this, coupled with lack of resources, has affected morale and provided ideal conditions for corruption.

Appeal for Protection of Citizens

After government forces lost control of the strategic port town Mocímboa da Praia in the province to the well-organised insurgents – who last year also routed some Russian mercenaries that had been hired by the government to help it in the fight – Human Rights Watch (HRW) in August urged the Mozambican government to safeguard the rights of the citizens in the process of fighting the insurgents.

“The authorities should protect the residents of Mocímboa da Praia during the army operations to regain control of the port,” said Zenaida Machado, a researcher for HRW. “They should ensure that people, especially women and children, are protected against violence and degrading treatment. Moreover, measures should be taken to allow humanitarian groups to safely access Mocímboa da Praia to supply food, clothes, and medical supplies to residents.”

However, instead of getting protection, the citizens have instead been getting from the security forces the same savage treatment that they have sought to escape by fleeing from the insurgents.

“It’s the worst case of betrayal,” Machado said adding that, “frightened citizens should not run from insurgents only to find themselves in danger from those who are supposed to keep them safe.”

Why No Go Area?

Eyebrows have been raised since last year when the Mozambican government banned journalists and other independent investigators from visiting the troubled province.

“If indeed there is nothing to hide there (in Cabo Delgado), our question is why are they blocking the media from doing its work there?” asked a Mozambican journalist.

“There is a lot to hide… definitely a lot,” said Dewa Mavhinga, HRW southern Africa director. “(The) Government forces (are) behaving like insurgents too.”

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Mozambique
Human rights groups have raised serious concerns over reports suggesting that Mozambique’s security forces have been committing gross human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, as they try to put down a four year-old insurgency in the north-most part of the vast southern African nation.
Amnesty International is calling on authorities to immediately order security forces to cease all ill-treatment of detainees and other human rights violations in Cabo Delgado
Since October 2017, an armed group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna (supporters of the tradition, and also known locally as Al-Shabaab) which is allegedly affiliated with the armed group calling itself Islamic State of Central Africa Province.