MAPUTO – Amnesty International Wednesday accused Mozambique’s government forces of torturing suspected members of an Islamist insurgency in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado province, as well as “possible extrajudicial executions” and “discarding a large number of corpses into apparent mass graves.”
“This behavior flouts fundamental principles of humanity. The abuses attributed to the group known as Al-Shabaab can never justify further violations by the security forces of Mozambique,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. “The government of Mozambique must now order a swift, transparent and impartial investigation to bring all those responsible for such crimes to justice in fair trials.”
Mozambique's extremist insurgency began in northern Cabo Delgado province, bordering Tanzania in the north and the Indian Ocean to the east, in October 2017. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed, mainly by the rebels, and the total number of fatalities stands at 1,854 including combatants on either side, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).
The rebels dramatically stepped up their attacks in 2020 and in August captured the strategic port city of Mocimboa da Praia and have held it for nearly a month.
In their battle against the extremists the Mozambican military and police are committing human rights abuses, charges the Amnesty report.
Amnesty said its researchers analyzed five videos and three photos obtained from sources in Mozambique. The soldiers committing the atrocities in the videos are wearing the uniforms of the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (FADM) and the Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) of the Mozambican police, Amnesty said.
In several videos, the soldiers refer to their captives as Al-Shabaab, Arabic for “the youth,” local slang for the Islamic rebels in Cabo Delgado, picking up the name of Somalia's extremist rebels. Mozambique's extremists have allied themselves with the Islamic State group, taking the name Islamic State Central African Province.
The videos show the torture, murder and burial of an estimated 15 men in a mass grave, says Amnesty.
In the videos studied by Amnesty, the soldiers speak Portuguese and Shangaan, a language from southern Mozambique. The soldiers in the videos also reference recent fighting in the town of Mocímboa da Praia, “making it highly likely that the videos were filmed in or near Cabo Delgado in the first half of 2020,” Amnesty says.
Orlando Mudumane, spokesman for the Mozambican police force, said he had no comment on Amnesty's charges when contacted by The Associated Press. A Ministry of Defence spokesman also did not comment.
Government troops lost control of Mocímboa da Praia around August 11, after intense fighting in and around the town and port. The government has since been reportedly gathering troops in the nearest towns of Mueda and Palma, viewed as preparation for an offensive to retake Mocímboa da Praia. On Monday, President Filipe Nyusi said that government forces had been in action in the strategic village of Awasse, close to Mocímboa da Praia, which has been reported to be under insurgent control. Nyusi did not say whether the government had taken control of Awasse.
An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people have fled the violence surrounding the insurgency and have sought refuge further south around Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“Many of the internally displaced people are traumatized by violence and abuses and have lost all their possessions. They have fled their fields and can no longer produce their own food. Many are desperate,” said Raoul Bittel, head of the ICRC operations in Pemba, which is providing assisting families with tarpaulins, cooking pots, and other necessities. The most vulnerable families are getting cash assistance, he said.
AP journalist Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed.