- Six people shot near Banhine National Park on 3 November 2020
- More than one year later, still no accountability
Mozambican authorities must thoroughly investigate a shooting by park rangers and police last year that injured six people, Amnesty International said today.
Interviewees told Amnesty International that rangers and police opened fire on unarmed local residents on a road near Banhine National Park on 3 November 2020. The residents had gathered to peacefully protest the arrests of at least 20 people in an operation to stop charcoal production in the area.
More than a year later, no one has been held accountable and there hasn’t been a proper investigation into this senseless shootingMuleya Mwananyanda
“More than a year later, no one has been held accountable and there hasn’t been a proper investigation into this senseless shooting. Victims and their families are still waiting for an explanation and justice,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“The investigation into this shooting by park rangers and police officers must be thorough, impartial, transparent and effective. Mozambican authorities must prevent the unlawful use of force in the future.”
Banhine National Park is co-managed by the international conservation organisation Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) and Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (Administração Nacional de Áreas de Conservação – ANAC).
In a statement to Amnesty International, PPF said that “all security activities are determined and carried out by Banhine National Parks’ head ranger” (an ANAC employee), in conjunction with PPF’s Law Enforcement Operations Manager.
Shooting near Banhine National Park
On 3 November 2020, park rangers, with support from the Police Special Intervention Unit in the nearby town of Xai Xai, led an operation against what they alleged was illegal charcoal production in or near Banhine National Park in Gaza Province. The Gerez community area – formed of two villages, Hochane and Madliwa – is located near Banhine National Park.
During the operation, park rangers and police burned charcoal kilns and arrested more than 20 people. Interviewees told Amnesty International that when local villagers heard about the operation, they decided to talk to the rangers immediately.
To stop the vehicles of park rangers and police, the villagers blocked the road just outside of the park with large log. Eight interviewees told Amnesty International that the population was unarmed. Villagers also said that, as they had already gathered at a bus stop to travel out-of-town to meet the governor on an unrelated matter, they had no weapons with them.
Interviewees said that when the rangers and police stopped their vehicles, four men from the community walked toward them with their empty hands held high. They said that rangers and police officers suddenly opened fire, hitting six men.
“No one carried a machete, gun, axe, knife or stick,” said one witness. “The representatives raised their hands as soon as they saw the park rangers to show they wanted to have a peaceful conversation. But the rangers didn’t want to hear anything – they started shooting.”
The rangers didn’t want to hear anything – they started shootingWitness
In correspondence with Amnesty International, PPF maintained park rangers “fired warning shots into the air, which in no way was a threat to any persons”.
However, an individual involved in the management of the park who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that “several rangers shot in the air in order to disperse people because there was a crowd, but some wanted to shoot individuals”. Multiple interviewees identified a specific ranger as the one who started shooting and instigated other rangers to shoot.
Three residents were badly injured, including one man with a serious gunshot wound to the abdomen. Amnesty International verified photos of the injuries and reviewed contemporaneous medical reports that indicated the victims had been shot.
As local residents fled, the police and rangers removed the log and left the area. A local villager drove the six wounded people in his car to a local health facility. Later, an ambulance took the three most seriously injured to the hospital in Chokwe, around 170km away.
Three interviewees, including one of the people arrested, said that all those arrested in the operation to stop charcoal production were released without charge the next day.
Villagers are frustrated that the official investigation into the incident has not progressed beyond the preliminary stage, despite meeting with the National Service of Criminal Investigation and Attorney General’s Office on at least four occasions since 30 November 2020.
Amnesty International considers that, as the villagers did not present an imminent threat of death or serious injury to members of the convoy, the use of force by the rangers and police was neither necessary nor proportional, and therefore unlawful under international human rights law.
Peace Parks Foundation response
In correspondence with Amnesty International, PPF described the incident as “regretful”, and maintained that the convoy was “ambushed” by a large group of people “armed with sticks, stones and machetes”. PPF confirmed the presence of their Law Enforcement Operations Manager at the incident, saying that he stayed in the car when community members started throwing stones.
PPF stated that “[t]o the best of our knowledge, none of the Banhine rangers used any unnecessary force. We understand that three BNP rangers in the support vehicles located a distance back from the special police vehicle, fired warning shots into the air, which in no way was a threat to any persons, and which was deemed proportional to the threat posed”.
PPF also stated that “Peace Parks Foundation immediately investigated the event using information provided by senior park personnel and the Peace Parks Foundation technical advisor and through this process were informed that as it occurred outside of the conservation area and Peace Parks Foundation’s area of support… this matter would be investigated and followed up on by the responsible Government structures”.
Since at least 2018, South African private military company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) has provided anti-poaching, ranger training, and other specialized security support to PPF, including under the name Environmental Management and Conservation Trust (EMCT).
In a 2020 project report accessed by Amnesty International, PPF noted that “the Environmental Management and Conservation Trust (formerly the Dyck Advisory Group) and Peace Parks Foundation are stepping up their endeavours to curb the escalating and destructive wildlife crime in and around Key Mozambique Protected Areas”, including in Banhine National Park. In a statement, PPF stated that DAG/EMCT had no involvement in Banhine prior to or at the time of the incident, and that they terminated their relationship with DAG/EMCT in May 2021.
Park boundary changes confusion
In 2013, the Mozambican government changed the Banhine National Park boundaries, increasing its area from 5,600 to 7,250 square kilometres. The expansion took in the area around the village of Hochane and set up a five-kilometre buffer zone around the new park limits. Based on analysis of satellite imagery, Amnesty International estimates that the 2013 boundary changes and buffer zone reduced the area of the Hochane community by more than 50%.
Amnesty International found that the new park boundaries included an area that local communities have used for decades to produce charcoal. Interviewees told Amnesty International that authorities had not informed or consulted with them about changes to the park’s boundaries.
The villagers have underlying grievances that should be addressed through consultation and negotiation, not bulletsRichard Pearshouse
Amnesty International considers that some members of the local communities held a legitimate expectation that they could produce charcoal in the area. Several community members denied the charcoal producing areas were inside the park. Local community members shared with Amnesty International recent licenses for charcoal production in the area, including one for Hochane that was valid at the time of the shooting.
“The villagers have underlying grievances that should be addressed through consultation and negotiation, not bullets,” said Richard Pearshouse, Head of Crisis and Environment at Amnesty International.
“Peace Parks Foundation must ensure that its operations respect the rights of local communities and comply with international standards.”
Amnesty International interviewed 26 people, including victims and witnesses of the shooting, community and government officials, and individuals involved in the management of the Park. It also reviewed official documents published by Mozambique’s government and other organizations, local hospital and media reports, and academic papers.
In October and November 2021, Amnesty International wrote to PPF, ANAC, Gaza province police command and DAG/EMCT seeking further information. PPF’s replies are available here and here. None of the other entities had responded by the time of publication.