Mozambique’s defense ministry has condemned recent video footage that appears to show four men in army uniforms executing a naked woman accused of being an Islamist militant. In an official statement the country’s defense ministry called for an investigation into the “horrific killing” and reiterated that the security forces “do not agree with any barbaric act that substantiates the violation of human rights.”
For the past month armed Islamist insurgents have controlled the strategic port city of Mocímboa da Praia in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. Government security forces withdrew from the northern city on 11 August after a five-day battle with the armed extremist group, known locally as Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama (ASWJ) or “al-Shabaab.” ASWJ is loosely affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The armed insurgency in Cabo Delgado has been ongoing since October 2017, with ASWJ perpetrating indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including beheadings, sexual and gender-based violence, abductions, recruitment of child soldiers and destroying civilian infrastructure. Security forces have reportedly used reckless and excessive force while confronting ASWJ, including allegedly sinking a boat carrying displaced civilians on 13 August, killing 40 people. Overall, an estimated 1,260 civilians have been killed and 210,000 displaced over the past three years, including over 500 killed so far this year.
On 9 September Amnesty International released its analysis of video footage of security forces allegedly perpetrating abuses while fighting insurgents in Cabo Delgado. The analysis focuses on five videos and three photos that Amnesty believes were recorded earlier this year and allegedly depict individuals from the Mozambique Defense Armed Forces and the Rapid Intervention Police. According to Amnesty’s analysis, the videos “show the attempted beheading, torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners; the dismemberment of alleged opposition fighters; possible extrajudicial executions; and the transport and discarding of a large number of corpses into apparent mass graves.”
Mozambique’s government must ensure that all civilians are protected during its operations to counter ASWJ and retake Mocímboa da Praia. Security forces must act in strict adherence with the principles of international law during military operations and with regards to the treatment of detainees. The government should immediately investigate alleged extrajudicial killings and hold any perpetrators accountable.
At least 58 civilians were killed during two attacks in Ituri province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on 8 and 10 September. According to a provincial minister, Adjio Gidi, the attacks were perpetrated by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group. Although the ADF is notorious for committing atrocities in villages surrounding Beni, North Kivu province, the group has also been responsible for a growing number of attacks in southern Ituri province in recent months.
Attacks by the ADF have escalated in response to an offensive launched by the armed forces of the DRC during October 2019. According to a July report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC, the ADF “used heavy weaponry during attacks against villages, including AK47s and mortars, and also machetes and knives. They often burned down entire villages, destroyed health centers and schools, and abducted and recruited men, women and children… In the majority of cases, the means and the modus operandi of the attacks indicate a clear intention to leave no survivors. Entire families have been hacked to death.”
More than 650 civilians have been killed by armed groups and over 660,000 have been displaced in Ituri since January. According to Save the Children, at least 60 schools and 17 health facilities have been attacked in Ituri since April. In addition to attacks by the ADF, the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO), a predominantly ethnic Lendu armed group, has perpetrated widespread violence against ethnic Hema villages.
The DRC government and UN peacekeepers must ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by numerous armed groups. Jaclyn Streitfeld-Hall, Publications Director for the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, called on the DRC government “to actively cooperate with UNJHRO and pursue those responsible for mass killings, sexual violence and other atrocities. Recent massacres in Ituri must be investigated and the perpetrators punished. The government should ensure timely trials are held for all ADF and CODECO combatants currently in their custody.”
This week the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) began its 45th regular session. During this session the HRC is scheduled to hold discussions on human rights and the threat of potential atrocity crimes in Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Burundi and elsewhere.
On Monday, 14 September, the HRC held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM). The IIMM Head, Nicholas Koumjian, said that they were, “closely following events in Myanmar and reports of violence that might qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Since November 2018 the government and the Arakan Army have engaged in an armed conflict in Rakhine State. Koumjian noted that, “those perpetrating violence should know that evidence is being recorded and preserved.” He also informed the HRC that relevant information collected by the IIMM has been shared with both parties involved in the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice.
Today, 16 September, the Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela published its investigation of alleged extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture, concluding that the patterns of violations and abuses were “part of a widespread and systematic course of conduct, thus amounting to crimes against humanity.” The FFM will present their report to the HRC during an Interactive Dialogue on 23 September.
This Friday, 18 September, the HRC will also hold an urgent debate on the human rights situation in Belarus. Following disputed presidential elections on 9 August, security forces in Belarus have imposed a violent crackdown on peaceful protesters and civil society groups. Thousands of protesters have been arrested and there have been widespread allegations of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees.
Patterns of arbitrary detention, torture and the reckless use of potentially lethal force by the security forces creates an environment conducive to the commission of potential crimes against humanity. The request for the urgent debate comes after five UN Special Rapporteurs, as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Secretary-General, condemned ongoing human rights abuses and the excessive use of force in Belarus.
The HRC has numerous tools at its disposal to address atrocity risks and to help hold perpetrators accountable. During this session, the Council should ensure the investigative mechanisms for Burundi, Yemen and Venezuela are renewed, as well as the mandate of the Independent Expert for the Central African Republic, and establish an independent, international investigation into serious human rights violations and abuses in the Philippines.