Armed conflict-driven human rights violations continued in northern Mozambique, aggravating the humanitarian crisis. Armed groups continued to burn villages, behead people and abduct women and girls. Meanwhile government security forces operating in the area also committed human rights violations against the population, including enforced disappearances, harassment and intimidation of civilians, and extortion of payments from traders. Internally displaced people continued to live in deplorable conditions with little access to food, water and housing. The rights to peaceful assembly and expression were repressed. A new NGO law threatened to limit civic space if implemented.
The trial of co-conspirators in the secret loans scandal, in which the former and current presidents were implicated, laid bare the betrayal of public trust and abuse of state institutions for personal financial gain. Furthermore, the trial exposed the depth and breadth of economic, social and political vulnerabilities to which the country had been exposed under successive Mozambique Liberation Front governments.
Meanwhile, the armed conflict between government forces and armed groups locally known as “Al-Shabaab” (with no known connection to Al-Shabaab in Somalia) in the northern province of Cabo Delgado continued unabated. The joint offensives against armed groups by the Mozambican, Rwandan and Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) forces failed to end the insurgency. Armed groups dispersed and launched new fronts of attack in previously unaffected regions, moving west and southwards into Niassa and Nampula provinces. Simultaneously, the unbearable cost of living, predominantly driven by increasing fuel prices, heightened popular unrest. All these factors eroded public confidence in President Nyusi’s government.
Violations of international humanitarian law
Al-Shabaab armed groups committed war crimes by beheading civilians, abducting women and girls, and looting and burning villages. On 21 May alone, they attacked Chicomo, Nguida and Nova Zambezia villages in Macomia district and burned houses, ransacked crops, beheaded 10 people and abducted women and girls. In June, Al-Shabaab insurgents attacked Mitopue village in Memba district, Nampula province, burning homes and looting property. In the same district, on 6 September, they burned more homes and a hospital, ransacked people’s property, and killed six civilians including a Catholic nun. On the night of 2 September, insurgents set fire to houses, a health post and a school, displacing 40,000 people from the Erati district. By the end of the year, all the northern provinces – Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa – had been attacked.
The Mozambican security forces in Cabo Delgado province abducted and forcibly disappeared traders for the purposes of extortion. On 13 May, residents of Macomia demanded the withdrawal of the police’s Rapid Intervention Unit after officers ill-treated civilians, including by extortion, the abduction of traders for ransom, and by subjecting them to threats. Soldiers stationed at the navy base in Pemba city subjected civilians passing through the area to physical aggression, extortion and theft of their property.
Internally displaced people’s rights
The expansion of the armed conflict exacerbated the humanitarian situation. The OCHA estimated that 1.5 million displaced people in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces needed some form of humanitarian assistance and protection due to the conflict. Food and water insecurity, malnutrition, precarious health and inadequate housing marked the conditions in which they lived. According to the OCHA, in Cabo Delgado province the most affected districts were Chiure, Macomia, Metuge, Mocímboa da Praia, Montepuez, Mueda, Nangade, Palma, Pemba and Quissanga. For instance, Pemba city added 152,000 internally displaced people to its original population of 224,000, while Metuge’s population grew from 101,000 residents to 228,000. About 80% of displaced people were hosted by friends and families, placing a heavy burden on their limited resources.
Freedom of assembly and association
The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association were repressed in tandem with legal efforts to shrink civic space. On 5 February, heavily armed police with dogs stopped a group of young people from holding a peaceful protest against toll fees on the ring road in Maputo, the capital. The group’s leader, Clemente Carlos, was arrested and detained at the 18th Police Station, where he was physically and verbally abused. He was released several hours later without charge.
On 18 August, the police violently suppressed a peaceful protest by traders in Gondola district, Sofala province, who were protesting against their eviction, without consultation and adequate notice, by the municipal authorities. The police used live ammunition and shot and injured three protesters.
Amid growing repression, in September the Council of Ministers drafted a new Non-Profit Organizations Law, giving the government enormous discretionary powers to further shrink civic space. It remained before parliament pending public consultations on the bill’s provisions to begin in February 2023.
Freedom of expression
Journalists and human rights defenders were subjected to threats, intimidation and arbitrary arrest for criticizing the government and its officials. On 22 January, unidentified individuals suspected of being state agents broke into the office of the human rights lawyer, João Nhampossa, and stole his computer, flash drives, mobile phones and various documents. He had been working on sensitive cases including the infamous secret loans scandal, and cases relating to toll gates and the extractive industry. In the second week of April, the governor of Tete province and the mayor of Tete town ordered the arrest, detention and interrogation of a man known as Anastácio after he had accused two government officials of a conflict of interest in connection with their owning land plots in Chingodzi, in an area reserved exclusively for military personnel.
On 16 August, Adriano Nuvunga, the executive director of the civic organization Centre for Democracy and Development received death threats. Two unused bullets were found in his front yard wrapped in paper with the message, “Beware, Nuvunga”. On 19 September, two unidentified men presented an unused bullet to Armando Nenane, a journalist and director of the magazine Crónica Jurídica e Juduciária, in downtown Maputo. The men claimed to be executing orders from their superiors, after a court had cleared Armando Nenane of document forgery and defamation charges pressed by the former minister of national defence. After being cleared, Armando Nenane pressed charges of “slanderous denunciation” and defamation against the former minister and members of intelligence and counter-intelligence.