Three years since fighting began in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, victims of the conflict that has killed more than 2,000 people are no closer to justice today, Amnesty International has said.
The violent attacks in Cabo Delgado have triggered a humanitarian crisis, with more than 300,000 internally displaced people and 712,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, Amnesty International said in a report published on Wednesday.
More than 350,000 people are facing severe food insecurity, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Members of the armed group “Al-Shabaab” (with no known relation to Somalia’s Al-Shabaab) launched their first assault in Mocimboa da Praia district in October 2017, attacking government institutions, including a police station, and killing two police officers.
Since then, the group’s attacks have targeted civilians and have grown increasingly violent, Amnesty said.
“This armed group is responsible for untold suffering in Cabo Delgado. They have reduced people’s homes to ashes through coordinated arson attacks, killed and beheaded civilians, looted food and property and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“There is evidence the security forces have also committed crimes under international law and human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings.
“These crimes are compounded by the fact that Mozambican authorities won’t allow local and international journalists and researchers to document this situation without repercussions.”
Julieta Carlos, 79, who is now among hundreds of people hoping to find food and shelter at the centre for displaced people near the town of Pemba, told Al Jazeera that she has never seen anything like the recent attack on her village by an armed group.
“We saw our houses burned and they started beheading people. We ran away. Our home is far from here and it took us about two weeks to get here,” Carlos said.
Also at the crowded centre was Mussa Assane, who told Al Jazeera that the fighters abducted many children but he was lucky to escape with his family.
“They wouldn’t let us leave. Then they took us to a school and read out our names and then beheaded them with a machete while everyone was watching,” Assane said.
The violent attacks in Cabo Delgado by the armed group grew by 300 percent in the first four months of 2020, compared to the same period last year, Amnesty said.
In a recent investigation, Amnesty verified gruesome footage from the region showing attempted beheading, torture and other ill-treatment.
It has verified a video showing the extrajudicial killing of an unidentified, naked, pregnant woman in Mocimboa da Praia.
She was attempting to flee north along the R698 road on the western side of the town of Awasse in Cabo Delgado when she was approached by men who appeared to be members of the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces (FADM) and who were following her, Amnesty said.
After the men beat her with a wooden stick, she was shot 36 times with a variety of Kalashnikov rifles and a PKM-style machine gun and her naked body was left on the highway.
According to analysts, Al-Shabaab’s attacks are partly motivated by grievances over the centralisation of power in the capital Maputo and the social and economic exclusion of the people of Cabo Delgado, Amnesty said.
In June 2019 the group started claiming affiliation with the Islamic State of Central Africa Province.
Amnesty called for violations against civilians to end immediately and urged Mozambican authorities to ensure that no suspected perpetrators of rights abuses, including in the security forces, go unpunished.
“They must start by launching an independent and impartial investigation into these grave abuses and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute them in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts,” Muchena said.