Lobby group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged Mozambique authorities to focus on improving the human rights training and professionalism of its regular troops and holding those responsible for abuses to account, while calling out the government using a militia group to fight insurgents.
HRW’s statements come after Mozambique’s government provided legal authority to an abusive militia to fight an Islamic State-linked armed group, locally known as al-Shabab, in the north of the country.
Known locally as al-Shabaab, but with no relation to the Somali-based terror group by the same name, the militants in Cabo Delgado have launched a series of brazen raids on towns and villages in an apparent bid to establish an Islamic caliphate.
An insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province that borders Tanzania has seen atrocities, including beheading of civilians reported there.
The terrorist attacks began in October 2017 on police stations in Mocimboa da Praia District then spread to other districts in the northern part of Cabo Delgado, notably in Macomia, Palma and Nangade.
The violence also affected Mozambique’s electoral process with the country’s government imposing restrictions to campaigns in northern Cabo Delgado.
The government first acknowledged it was collaborating with the militia in 2020.
In 2020, the militia reportedly killed over 30 al-Shabab fighters during a major attack in Muidumbe district and over 270 more during a joint operation with government soldiers in Mueda district.
The country’s local newspaper Evidencias in December reported that residents of Muidumbe District in Cabo Delgado accused members of the militia force of extorting money from people stopped at checkpoints.
A force linked to the ruling party
Meanwhile, Mozambique’s opposition parties have called this local militia a paramilitary force linked to the ruling party.
The country’s government has been unable or is unwilling to hold accountable members of its security forces implicated in extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary detention and mistreatment of detainees.
“The Mozambique government should ensure that all government-linked forces operate within legal standards and do not violate international humanitarian law,” HRW Africa Division Intern Nirvaly Mooloo said, adding that this starts with publicly clarifying their mandate and bringing those responsible for abuses to account.
“Instead, they have chosen the dangerous path of formalising relations with an untrained and seemingly uncontrollable militia,” Mooloo further said.
“And they have done so without providing any public details on how they intend to stop this group from committing further abuses,” the expert added.