Mozambican soldiers execute an unarmed woman on a rural road in Cabo Delgado
The video is shaky, but clear. In it, a woman is walking alone on an asphalt road near the town of Awasse in Cabo Delgado province, which is the site of a growing anti-government insurgency. She is naked and unarmed. We don’t know her name.
Five or six armed men enter the frame, all wearing Mozambican army uniforms. They catch up to the woman, and start to beat her with a long stick. Then one of the soldiers opens fire. The woman drops to the ground. The others join in, riddling the woman’s corpse with bullets. At least 38 shots are fired.
The soldiers turn around, and walk back to where they came from. “We’ve just killed Al Shabaab,” one of them says. Another looks directly into the camera. He gives an ironic salute, and smiles.
A litany of abuses
Earlier in September, Amnesty International delivered a scathing report into human rights violations committed by Mozambican security forces in Cabo Delgado. Denied access to the area, its report was based on gruesome videos and images that had been analysed by researchers.
“The videos and pictures 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,” Amnesty said.
Mozambique’s Ministry of Defence issued a blanket denial. It went further, suggesting that Amnesty had been fooled by “the covert and reductionist propaganda of the terrorist group operating in Cabo Delgado, which aims to denigrate the image of the Defence and Security Forces”.
Officially, Mozambican officials have taken a similar line in response to the video of the women being executed. Although the defence ministry condemned the images as “shocking, abusive, disgusting, horrifying and, above all, condemnable in all their dimensions”, Defence minister Jaime Neto said the video was fake. He blamed ‘malicious people’ for trying to ruin the army’s reputation.
Unofficially, a source within the Ministry of Defence told the Mail & Guardian that the men in the video have been identified as soldiers. “The case is already being dealt with internally,” said the source, who was not permitted to speak on the record. He said that the woman was shot because she was suspected of witchcraft; and alleged that the approach of a naked woman was a superstitious ritual that heralded an insurgent attack.
“What is wrong, stupid and reprehensible is the public execution of the woman and consequently sharing the video,” the source said.
Out of control
The insurgency in Cabo Delgado began in 2017 with an attack on a police station. Since then it has increased in both intensity and brutality. Little is known about the insurgents or their motivations, except that they have some affiliation with the Islamic State. Their capacity has grown markedly this year: the insurgents appear to have access to sophisticated weapons such as heavy artillery and drones, and have been able to sporadically seize control over the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia.
Mozambique’s defence force has appeared powerless to contain the insurgency, and have even sought assistance from foreign mercenary outfits, such as the Dyck Advisory Group and Russia’s Wagner Group. Authorities have sought to restrict the information flow from the region, and have arrested journalists and researchers who have got too close to the conflict.
Complicating things further is the presence in the region of one of the world’s largest untapped natural gas reserves, expected to be worth in the region of $60-billion. Major international gas companies such as Total have already set up operations there, and employ hundreds of private security contractors for their own protection.
Both Mozambican and international rights groups, including the National Human Rights Commission, have called for independent investigations into atrocities committed by both sides in the conflict.
*This article was publish at the https://mg.co.za/thecontinent/