Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Mozambique’s government forces of torturing suspected members of an armed group 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 behaviour flouts fundamental principles of humanity. The abuses attributed to the group known as al-Shabab can never justify further violations by the security forces of Mozambique,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, said.
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“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,” Muchena said.
The armed group 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.
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 group, the Mozambican military and police are committing human rights abuses, charges the Amnesty report.
Amnesty said its researchers analysed 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 Defence 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-Shabab, Arabic for “the youth,” local slang for the rebels in Cabo Delgado.
The rebels have allied themselves with ISIL (ISIS), taking the name Islamic State Central African Province.
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 Mocimboa da Praia, “making it highly likely that the videos were filmed in or near Cabo Delgado in the first half of 2020”, the London-based rights group said.
Orlando Mudumane, spokesman for the Mozambican police force, said he had no comment on Amnesty’s allegations. A defence ministry spokesman also did not respond.
Government troops lost control of Mocimboa da Praia on 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 the area.
On Monday, President Filipe Nyusi said government forces had been in action in the strategic village of Awasse, close to Mocimboa da Praia, which has been reported to be under rebel 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 rebellion and have sought refuge further south around Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.