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Cabo Ligado Analysis: DAG's internal investigation into human rights allegations

While the report denies allegations of indiscriminate attacks, it acknowledges the possibility of civilian collateral damage, especially in instances where insurgents may have used civilian cover to attack

This article is excerpted from the Cabo Ligado monthly report looking back at June 2021, published on 19 July 2021

Cabo Ligado has secured a copy of the Dyck Advisory Group’s internal investigation into allegations that it committed human rights abuses while employed by the Mozambican police in Cabo Delgado.

Compiled by Adv G W Woodland SC, the report, completed on 25 June, presents the findings of his investigation into the accusations contained in the Amnesty International (AI) report, “What I saw is Death: War Crimes in Mozambique’s Forgotten Cape,” released on 2 March 2021. This report, which details violations from insurgents, government forces, and private military contractors, relies on the testimonies of 53 witnesses, who told AI that between October and December 2020, “DAG operatives fired machine guns from helicopters and dropped hand grenades indiscriminately into crowds of people, as well as repeatedly fired at civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, and homes.” AI accused the contractor of committing war crimes and violating international humanitarian law.

Woodland’s mandate was to investigate whether DAG had been compliant with its standard operating procedures, including its codes of conduct on human rights and security operations, and DAG’s related adherence to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies (2008), which provides a framework for guiding legal obligations for private contractors operating in armed conflict arenas.

Woodland, assisted by two former members of the British Metropolitan Police’s anti-terrorist branch, now based in Pemba, interviewed DAG personnel and “independent witnesses” and was given access to an array of documents, including operational and situational reports.

The report sets out DAG’s contractual obligations, confirming the company was contracted to the Mozambican Ministry of Interior in a period from 2020 to April 2021 and makes clear it has had no further involvement since the end of its contract, a claim that has been disputed by the private analysis group, Africa Intelligence.

The report provides a technical overview of DAG’s operations including training, reconnaissance and logistical support, and claims its personnel were not involved in ground operations. The AI allegations, however, relate to aerial operations, and the report confirms that all of these operations were authorised by a commander in the PRM and that DAG teams were accompanied by senior PRM officers in all of these maneuvers.

Woodland’s inquiry sets out DAG’s standard operating procedures and internal policies dealing with contraventions and concludes that these were strictly enforced. The report focuses in on specific allegations relating to incidents in Quissanga (25 March & 8 April 2020), Chai Sede, Litamanda, and Macomia (28 May 2020), and Mocimboa da Praia (27 June 2020), including the death of Sheikh Sulemaini Mbone. The inquiry was also extended to investigate AI’s subsequent allegations of racial discrimination in the rescue operations in Palma in late March 2021.

The report also questions the methodology AI employed in constructing its allegations, and disputes the validity of some of the witness testimony. It is not clear, however, what efforts, if any, were made to directly engage AI on this or if any attempt was made to access the full testimonies or engage with AI’s witnesses.

Conversely, Woodland points to the first-hand accounts of DAG operators who were involved in the incidents the AI report refers to, as well as contemporaneous situation reports. The version of events relating to the 27 June 2020 clashes in Mocimboa da Praia, for example, “paint a very different narrative,” and Woodland reiterates that mission objectives were set by the overall command of the PRM officer who was present during the operation. Details of this operation from these accounts claim DAG provided cover for civilians fleeing from the town and that an attack on a hospital building followed the majority of insurgents taking cover there; the hospital, the report claims, had been abandoned and was therefore not functioning as a hospital for “some six months.”

Indeed, DAG claims that it only attacked “legitimate military targets” and that permission from the PRM was necessary before an attack was possible. DAG stated “the final authorisation to engage insurgent targets had to be given by the PRM liaison officer, a ranking Mozambican police general.” With respect to discriminating between civilians and military targets, “if a target was identified and any civilians were seen in the target area, the engagement was called off.” The only time “independent fire” was authorised was in instances of self-defence. DAG insists these rules of engagement were strictly adhered to.

DAG denies it threw handgrenades from its choppers, in fact claiming that it returned Chinese grenades supplied by the PRM as they were dangerously unreliable.  The report does, however, confirm that “a limited number of canister devices were improvised and utilised” and that these were reserved for very specific targets, that delivery was very accurate and in no ways indiscriminate.

Nevertheless, while the report denies allegations of indiscriminate attacks, it acknowledges the possibility of civilian collateral damage, especially in instances of self-defence where insurgents may have used civilian cover to attack. The report highlights the challenging conditions of combat and questions how realistic AI’s assertions are, especially those of wilful indiscrimination, in these circumstances.

The report also rejects allegations of racial discrimination made by AI regarding the evacuation of the Amarula Hotel in Palma in late March 2021 based on witness testimony of those involved in the rescue operation and some of those who were rescued.

Interestingly, the report states that the DAG team that operated in Cabo Delgado was in fact an “offshore security group,” challenging the oft repeated claim that the company is in fact a South African private security entity, and by extension was violating the country’s legal prohibition on mercenary activity. This may help explain why the South African authorities have not responded publicly to claims of illegality, and in fact may well have facilitated DAG activities during the course of the contracted period.

It will not escape observers and critics that the report was commissioned by DAG and its legal representatives, leaving it open to criticism regarding its independence, the selective nature of the inquiry and the limitations of verification. As such, an element of ‘he said, she said’ comes into play. Its content, however, provides some basis for a constructive interaction between those making the allegations through AI and DAG if both parties were interested in doing so. The report also exposes the PRM’s command responsibility, but it is unlikely the PRM will even acknowledge let alone respond to the report. How AI and others will now respond to the content and findings remains to be seen.