A viral video showing men dressed in military fatigue, supposedly in Mozambique, burning dead bodies has raised uproar with rights watchdogs demanding an investigation.
Amnesty International on Wednesday said those found culpable must face the law. The organisation was responding to what appears to be soldiers in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province throwing dead bodies onto a pile of burning household items.
Local troops and those from the Southern Africa Development Cooperation (SADC) bloc are battling an insurgency in the mineral-rich region.
The 20-second video also shows a soldier pouring a liquid over the corpses while others, including one wearing a South African military uniform, watch and film the scene with their mobile phones.
The video gained traction on social media on Tuesday, but Amnesty said the incident is believed to have occurred in November 2022.
South African army
SADC deployed the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) as a regional force to fight armed rebel groups since 2021 alongside Mozambique government forces.
“The burning of what appears to be dead bodies by soldiers is deplorable and is likely a violation of international humanitarian law, which prohibits the mutilation of corpses and requires that the dead be disposed of in a respectful manner.”
According to the human rights group, anyone against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence should be prosecuted in fair trials.
“Security in Cabo Delgado must not come at the cost of human rights violations,” Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty’s Director for East and Southern Africa, said.
South African Defence Forces (SADF) on Wednesday said their troops were, indeed, fighting in Mozambique under SAMIM, promising to investigate the case.
“The SADF does not condone in any way the actions committed in the video, and those found guilty will be brought to book,” the South African army said in a statement.
Amnesty International has previously revealed evidence of extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, attempted beheadings, torture, mutilation, and other ill-treatment of alleged Al-Shabaab fighters who were held, as well as the transfer of a large number of corpses to apparent mass graves in Cabo Delgado.
Namibian President Hage Geingob, who chairs the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, “noted with regret the disturbing video clip”.
“I wish to inform the general public that the SAMIM leadership has instituted investigations to establish the circumstances on the matter, a result of which will be shared once completed,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
“On behalf of SADC, and indeed on my own behalf, I wish to reiterate SADC’s commitment to peace and security in the region.”
The regional force SAMIM was deployed on July 15, 2021, to help Mozambique counter terrorism threats, weeks after Rwanda deployed its army and police personnel to Cabo Delgado.
The force includes troops from Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Rwanda is also involved in the fight against the insurgency under a bilateral arrangement with Mozambique.
Terrorism in Cabo Delgado erupted in October 2017 when about 30 armed men launched a dawn raid on three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia.
Since then, more than 4,258 people have been killed, according to conflict tracker Acled, and more than 820,000 have fled their homes.