Human rights abuse rife in terrorist-torn Cabo Delgado as Mozambique struggles to contain insurgency

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented several human rights abuses in the now infamous Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique. War crimes such as beheadings (including of children), women kidnapped for slavery and sexual abuse, destruction of schools and hospitals and houses being burnt down with people inside are being reported to HRW from some of the hundreds of thousands of people that have been displaced by the insurgency.

Zenaida Machado, senior researcher at HRW, said she is additionally receiving negative reports about the Mozambique Armed Defence Forces (FADM). “This includes a tax on journalists… unlawful arrets, executions, intimidation of activists and allegations of indiscriminate bombings.”

Machado revealed these reports in a webinar hosted by the Mail & Guardian and International Crisis Group (ICG) on 17 June. The webinar was centred around what needs to happen to prevent a new jihadist front.

“I have spoken to women who cannot sleep because they still remember the moment their children were taken away from them or because they are still separated from them and worried where they are,” Machado said. 75% of the displaced persons are women and children, according to HRW.

In preventing a new jihadist front, Machado said the government plays the most important role. People are in need of food, shelter, water and assistance in finding their families. Centres that provide this relief and aid iare critical in Cabo Delgado and should be a responsibility of the state. Machado added, “Some children have not been to school since the start of this conflict almost four years ago. Because in some cases the schools have been destroyed or because it is not safe.” Mozambique’s Minister of Education said that 45 schools have been destroyed.

Machado also criticised the resettlement villages provided by the government, saying people want to go home, not be relocated.

Dino Mahtani, African programme deputy director at ICG, said that signs of the insurgency go back as far as 2007. “What you had back in those days were young, disenfranchised boys in the local communities on the coast.” Suffering from underdevelopment, youths in Cabo Delgado have also been frustrated with political and business elites for over a decade. Mahtani added that throughout this period, the Cabo Delgado youths were being fed East-African jihadi/Islamist pamphlets issued by prominent radicals. By 2017, Mahtani said they had acquired weapons, which came as no surprise to him because the Cabo Delgado coast has established routes to and from Somalia and the Gulf of Aden up to Yemen where oceangoing Dows have transported illicit items including weapons.

The muscle of the insurgency is mostly young Mozambican men, who see the insurgency as an opportunity to make money. Mahtani said his report with ICG focuses on how the Mozambique government could strengthen its dialogue with these militants and address what drives its youth towards the insurgency as well as sooth community tensions.

The land the insurgency has claimed is not being governed, according to Mahtani. “This is a predatory armed group, its not actually governing territory, its roaming around, basing itself in remote camps and then roaming through territory that it’s flushed,” Mahtani said, adding that when insurgents find civilians that they feel they are a threat or collaborators with the state, they kill them.

Discrimination is also taking place, according to Machado, who said some people in Cabo Delgado are reporting that they feel their tribe or region dictates the insurgents’ and FADM’s behaviour towards them.

Machado said that even the rescue and evacuation process is corrupted by security forces and other opportunists demanding payment for safe passage to neighbouring regions and boat rides.

Luis Nhachote, a Mozambican correspondent for the Mail & Guardian, said that he is seeing new tensions arise between Non-Profit Organisations (NGOs) and government because NGOs are not being allowed to help displaced persons without government authorisation. Adding to the new tensions in Mozambique, Nhachote said that people native to the land that displaced people are now occupying want money for their land being used.

The Mozambican government’s reaction to the insurgency has been predominantly a security response with a very weak national security force. FADM is only 12 000 strong with Soviet-era stockpiles that are often in a state of disrepair. Discipline of the army is also very weak, and instead the government has relied on paramilitary forces (such as Dyck Advisory Group and Wagner Group). “They bought in Dyck Advisory Group to take the fight to insurgents but even then, the campaign was marked by security force abuses, reports of abuses by Dyck Advisory Group. They were able to dent militants from time to time but not really contain them,” Mahtani said.



A Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standby Force is to be deployed in support of Mozambique to combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado. This is the first time a SADC force will mobilise to combat terrorism. Machado was critical of SADC, saying there is a lot SADC could have done such as deal with the issue of refugees and provide humanitarian relief but choses to solely focus on a military response.