The armed group known locally as al-Shabaab, government security forces and private military operatives continued to commit war crimes and other serious human rights violations. The authorities mishandled the humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado, seriously undermining rights to food, water, education, housing and health. Violence against women and girls continued unchecked. Expectant mothers were treated inhumanely, and were beaten, insulted and humiliated in public maternity wards. The authorities stifled activity within civic space through intimidation, harassment and threats against civil society activists and journalists.
The armed conflict in Cabo Delgado province remained the most critical issue, with President Nyusi facing criticism about his mishandling of the conflict. Under mounting pressure from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), he relented to the call for the deployment of foreign troops to the region where, by the end of the year, Mozambican, SADC and Rwandan troops were fighting insurgents.
The “hidden debt” trial exposed, to a limited extent, the corruption scheme which drove the country into economic crisis, further deepening the unpopularity of the governing party, the Mozambique Liberation Front.
Violations of international humanitarian law
Civilians were caught between three armed forces in the conflict in Cabo Delgado, in which more than 3,000 people have died since the conflict began. Fighters in the armed rebel group, known locally as al-Shabaab (not thought to be related to al-Shabaab in Somalia) killed civilians using the most gruesome methods, looted their property, burned their homes, and kidnapped women and children. The Mozambican security forces abused people they were meant to protect through harassment, extortion, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The Dyck Advisory Group, a private military company hired by the government as a rapid reaction force, fired machine guns and dropped explosives indiscriminately from helicopters, often failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets. The death toll continued to rise throughout the year.1
Internally displaced people’s rights
Nearly 1 million people (primarily women, children and older people) were internally displaced in the homes of families and friends and in camps in relatively secure settlements in the south of Cabo Delgado province, where they lacked adequate access to food, water, education, health and housing. Food scarcity primarily affected women and children, putting their health at risk. The authorities responsible for food aid distribution demanded sexual favours from displaced women in exchange for registration, documentation and food aid. The displaced people settled in locations without adequate water and sanitation in overcrowded dwellings without privacy or proper ventilation, putting their health at risk. The settlements offered few health and education services, and large numbers of children did not attend school.
Violence against women and girls
Violence against women and girls remained rampant, with few measures taken to hold perpetrators accountable. Although such violence was prevalent prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, it was, according to local women human rights defenders and organizations, further aggravated during the restrictive measures taken to control the virus.2
In June, revelations emerged that, for years, the wardens of the Ndlavela Women’s Prison in Maputo province had created an elaborate scheme for sexual abuse and exploitation of prisoners.
In March, in Beira, Sofala province, a man brutally killed his wife with an iron bar, alleging that she had been drinking beer with a male neighbour. In April, in Balama, Cabo Delgado province, a man beat his wife to death because he suspected she had had an affair. In Nampula province, in July, a man tied up his wife, poured petrol on her and set fire to her because he suspected her of infidelity; and in September, a school janitor sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl on her way to school, after threatening her with physical violence. In all these cases the perpetrators remained in police custody. In August, a human resources manager at a primary school in Murrupula district, Nampula province, was found sexually assaulting a 14-year-old schoolgirl with autism. The police dismissed the case, forcing the girl’s family to take the case to the district Public Prosecutor, who assigned the case to the investigative police unit.
Sexual and reproductive rights
Local women’s organizations heard testimonies from dozens of women who described being subjected to physical aggression, insults and humiliation by nurses and midwives in some public maternity wards. Pregnant women dreaded the prospect of delivering their babies in public hospitals and clinics due to obstetric violence. The abuse often took place at night in the absence of staff supervisors. Significant numbers of women who had delivered babies in maternity wards said they were expected to pay bribes to midwives and nurses to be treated with respect and dignity. When they failed to do so, they were left unattended as their waters broke and at the point of their baby’s birth, forcing them to negotiate the payment of bribes at the height of their fear and physical pain. Despite repeated calls by women’s rights groups, the Mozambican authorities made no apparent attempts to address the problem by bringing perpetrators to justice or compensating the survivors.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly
The authorities restricted activity within civic space. On various occasions the police prevented activists from exercising their civic rights, including their right to peaceful assembly.
In May, the police dispersed students who were peacefully protesting against a new law giving parliamentary workers benefits which the protesters considered to be excessive. In June, they prevented activists from the Centre for Democracy and Development from submitting a list of their concerns to the Administrative Tribunal. The activists were protesting at the construction of urban toll gates on the Maputo circular road. In September, police officers beat and arbitrarily arrested six journalists in Nampula province for covering a peaceful protest against government delays in paying Covid-19 subsidies. In October, the police prevented medical doctors from peacefully protesting in solidarity with another doctor who was among a group of people who had been abducted. The mayor of Maputo claimed that he had not authorized the event, even though the constitution requires organizers only to inform, not ask permission from, the authorities four days ahead of any planned gathering.