The insurgency in Mozambique’s northern province, Cabo Delgado, is showing no signs of slowing down. While some of the latest reports suggest fighters may be running low on food, the Islamist insurgency’s violence rose to unprecedented levels in 2020. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, there were over 1 770 reported fatalities in Cabo Delgado in 2020, with civilians being the main target.
Aside from the Islamist insurgency that has seen horrific acts of violence like beheadings, the region is also part of a multi-national drug trafficking route. Reports that a seizure of drugs on a beach in the Nacala Porto District suggest drug trafficking is being pushed further south as fighting in Cabo Delgado continues to flare up.
Foreign investment into gas and oil in the northern province of Mozambique can potentially transform the area, providing jobs and creating a functioning economy. Additionally, there is a massive rare stones trade, particularly with rubies. However, that too is under risk, seen as recently as January when Total had to pull its staff from sites due to insurgent attacks on the area.
The importance of handling and dissipating the insurgency that has displaced over half a million people seems obvious, especially considering its growth in sophistication and incursions into neighbouring Tanzania.
On 28 January, the Centro Para Democracia e Desenvolvimento (Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD) held an inaugural webinar in a series of workshops and webinars that discuss business, security, and human rights in Cabo Delgado. The series falls under the CDD’s initiative of, “Voluntary Principles of Security and Human Rights (VPSHR) in Cabo Delgado”, a project aimed at establishing and implementing standards, responsibilities, guidelines and methodology for those involved in security and human rights, particularly in Cabo Delgado. While VPSHR has existed since 2000, most of its focus has been on guiding oil, gas, and mining companies.
Those examining why the insurgency continues to grow believe the Mozambican government and the Armed Forces for the Defense of Mozambique (FADM) are involved.
The webinar opened with UK Deputy High Commissioner in Mozambique, Kelly Shepard, who stated that the British Government is highly interested in supporting the effective implementation of the VPSHR.
Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of National Defence, National Director of Defense Policy, Colonel Omar Saranga, began iby saying that VPSHR is one of the tools of reference in the operation of FADM. Additionally, FADM uses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, together with other norms of public international and humanitarian law within its military. Saranga said the situation in Cabo Delgado is complex, but FADM and security forces are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible, siting his participation in the webinar as a sign of good faith.
Saranga went on to account for the complaints of human rights violations by FADM and security forces, saying, “Our forces in Cabo Delgado have been associated with human rights violations, but when we try to understand, in a clear and objective way, what really happened, we discover that there is a machine producing what I could call false videos.” Saranga could be trying to say that there is some sort of media campaign aimed at putting FADM and security forces in a bad light. Saranga went onto say that there is some difficulty in training FADM soldiers in this regard and they are always learning in the context of implementing human rights but their interest is to defend the population.
The Ministry of Justice, Constitutional and Religious Affairs was represented by the National Director of Human Rights and Citizenship, Claudio Dinis Mate, who said, “At the moment, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights are not binding but recommended. But a process of negotiation of a binding international treaty is underway.”
Advisor to the Secretariat of the VPSHR, Jonathan Drimmer and European business and human rights expert, Anton Mifsud-Bonnici, spoke about what the VPSHR does for communities. The Cabo Delgado community is heavily or has at least expressed the feeling of disenfranchisement from its land and government. Drimmer states that government, multinational companies and civil society organizations can share their specialized information and work together to best handle community safety. “This platform exists to include communities in the concept of security and to get them to participate,” Stated Mifsud-Bonnici.
Member of the CDD, Cármen Munhequete, highlighted the need to observe the international human rights law and international humanitarian law when engaging with civilians and insurgents. As often the case with Islamic insurgents, their presence is mixed with civilians, making it difficult to differentiate between the two. Kangaroo courts and heavy handedness by government and FADM against civilians who are either willingly or coerced into aiding insurgents can only lead to further conflict. Considering the tactics of Islamic insurgents, their use of propaganda and civilian sentiment towards the government in Cabo Delgado, respecting human rights in the region is vital to slowing the rebel’s growth and support.
Experts and journalists have criticized the government for its lack of interest in aiding its impoverished Cabo Delgado citizens, with some stating it as one of the many reasons for the insurgency’s inception. Additionally, social, and cultural differences between those in government and Cabo Delgado citizens has also been considered to be a breeder of the violent rebellion. The CDD is a watchdog for security and human rights in Mozambique and as the conflict escalates, stakeholders such as those in this dialogue will need to play a stronger role in preventing human rights abuses. However, one of the biggest questions remains: are the majority and most severe cases of human rights abuses being committed by the government and security forces or the Islamic insurgency?