Mozambique: No justice for victims of three-year conflict in Cabo Delgado which has killed over 2,000

Three years after fighting began in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, victims of the conflict that has killed more than 2,000 people are no closer to justice, truth and reparation, Amnesty International said today.  Authorities have failed to hold all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice for crimes under international law and human rights violations.

This armed group is responsible for untold suffering in Cabo Delgado
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

Members of an armed group calling itself “Al-Shabaab” launched their first assault in Mocímboa da Praia district in October 2017, attacking government institutions, including a police station, and killing two police officers. Since then, the attacks which have displaced more than 300,000 people and targeted civilians, have grown increasingly violent.

“This armed group is responsible for untold suffering in Cabo Delgado. They have reduced people’s homes to ashes through coordinated arson attacks, killed and beheaded civilians, looted food and property and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“There is evidence the security forces have also committed crimes under international law and human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings. These crimes are compounded by the fact that Mozambican authorities won’t allow local and international journalists and researchers to document this situation without repercussions.”

The violent attacks in Cabo Delgado by the armed group grew by 300% in the first four months of 2020, compared to the same period last year. The situation has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with over 2,000 people killed, over 300,000 internally displaced people and 712,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 350,000 people are facing severe food insecurity according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The military has been blamed for crimes under international law and human rights violations in pursuit of those suspected of being involved with the armed group, including extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment. The army has also been implicated in abductions and arbitrary detention of journalists, researchers, community leaders and anyone who attempt to expose the abuses.

They have reduced people’s homes to ashes through coordinated arson attacks, killed and beheaded civilians, looted food and property and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes
Deprose Muchena

“Violations against the civilian population must immediately end. The Mozambican authorities must ensure no suspected perpetrator, including in the security forces, goes unpunished. They must start by launching an independent and impartial investigation into these grave abuses and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute them in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts,” said Deprose Muchena.

Torture by security forces

In recent weeks, there have been undisputed reports of torture and other crimes under international law committed by security forces in Cabo Delgado. In a recent investigation, Amnesty International verified gruesome footage from the region showing crimes against detainees after it got hold of the videos. 

The videos and pictures show the attempted beheading, torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners; the dismemberment of alleged armed group fighters; possible extrajudicial executions; and the transport and discarding of a large number of corpses into apparent mass graves.

Violations against the civilian population must immediately end. The Mozambican authorities must ensure no suspected perpetrator, including in the security forces, goes unpunished.
Deprose Muchena

In another gruesome incident verified by the organization, a video showing the extrajudicial killing of an unidentified, naked woman in Mocímboa da Praia was shared on social media recently.

According to analysis by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab, the woman was killed in the middle of the R698 road, outside the electrical substation on the western side of the town of Awasse in Cabo Delgado.

Authorities must launch an independent and impartial investigation into these grave abuses and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute them in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts
Deprose Muchena

She was attempting to flee north along the road when she was approached by men who appeared to be members of the Mozambique Armed Defense Force (FADM), who were following her. After beating her with a wooden stick, she was shot 36 times with a variety of Kalashnikov rifles and a PKM-style machine gun and her naked body left on the highway.

Background

The attacks in Cabo Delgado started in October 2017 with killings of civilians by the armed group calling itself Al-Shabaab (with no known relation with Al-Shabaab in Somalia). The armed group has been terrorizing local communities, including in the districts of Macomia, Quissanga, Mocímboa da Praia, Muidumbe, Nangade and Palma, with coordinated and simultaneous attacks on government institutions. The group has not made any political demands. However, according to analysts, its attacks are inspired by the centralization of power in Maputo and the social and economic exclusion of the people of Cabo Delgado.

In June 2019, the armed group started claiming affiliation with the Islamic State of Central Africa Province.