War crimes have been committed by all sides fighting in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique: the Islamist insurgents, the Mozambique government, and a South African mercenary outfit hired by the government to provide helicopter support, according to a new report published today by human rights organisation Amnesty International.
The insurgents, whose terror campaign in Cabo Delgado began in October 2017, behead or “chop” civilians, cutting them up like slaughtered animals, survivors told Amnesty researchers. Mozambique’s armed forces frequently flee their attacks, failing in their duty to protect civilians — and abuse the civilian population in between attacks, locals told Amnesty. Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a private military company run by retired Zimbabwean colonel Lionel Dyck, has fired indiscriminately at civilians, and dropped hand grenades from helicopters. “Dropping unguided ordnance from moving aircraft constitutes an indiscriminate attack, as there is no way to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives,” Amnesty said.
Hundreds of civilians in Mozambique have been unlawfully killed by the three armed actors in the conflict, Amnesty said — calling on the Mozambique government and international organisations to investigate potential war crimes, and bring perpetrators to justice.
Amnesty’s report focuses on three major battles in 2020, for three towns in coastal Cabo Delgado: Quissanga, Macomia, and Mocímboa da Praia. Each time, the Mozambican military’s response was supported by helicopters operated by DAG, which fired machine guns and also, Amnesty says, dropped grenades — something reported by eyewitnesses on the ground, and confirmed by sources close to DAG, Amnesty researcher Brian Caster told AP on Monday.
DAG’s helicopters are “armed with side-mounted machine guns and, according to an independent expert with knowledge of Dyck’s operations, the crew also drop hand grenades out the open doors onto targets below,” the report says.
One woman who saw fighting in Mocímboa da Praia in June 2020 said: “Two helicopters came, one shooting and dropping bombs. One group [of civilians] that was running raised their hands and they were not shot. But another group that was with the bandits did not raise their hands and they were shot. We saw this. Many people died there.” Amnesty said that “arbitrary hand gestures are not a sufficient method of distinguishing between military and civilian targets,” saying that any failure on the part of those carrying out attacks to distinguish between civilians and fighters “is a violation of international humanitarian law and may constitute a war crime.”
Reuters reported that Lionel Dyck said he takes the allegations “very seriously, and we are going to put an independent legal team in there shortly to do a board of inquiry and look at what we are doing."
Insurgents act mercilessly
When the insurgents — known locally, and in Amnesty’s report, as ‘Al-Shabaab’ — attacked Quissanga in March 2020, they were merciless with local civilians who stood in their way. Amnesty quotes a 75-year-old man who fled the fighting in a coastal village near the town of Quissanga, who said that men who fought back against Al-Shabaab were “beheaded” and “chopped” — something, the man said, like being “divided like a cow.”
These actions, Amnesty said, “have been done deliberately to intimidate and frighten the population.”
One young woman told Amnesty how on 23 July 2020 the civilian bus on which she and her husband were travelling was stopped by Al-Shabaab fighters in a small village. The fighters shot up the bus, and when it stopped, they ordered everyone to come out, one by one, so they could be executed. She was shot once in the chest, and her husband was hit as well. She recalled: “At that time one of the bandits left … to go get the machete to use it on the wounded people. Later, he said we don’t need to chop them all, we can leave them to bleed and suffer. The leader of the bandits asked all the people about why they are trying to run away. They were running back to Macomia.” She said the leader then said: “You can run back but we are coming and we will do the same thing to Macomia as we are doing here.”
In September 2020, Amnesty accused the Mozambican armed forces — including police and military — of severe human rights abuses, saying it had seen five videos and three photos that showed the attempted beheading, torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners; the dismemberment of alleged Al-Shabaab fighters; possible extrajudicial executions; and the transport and discarding of a large number of corpses into apparent mass graves.
In its new report, Amnesty cites allegations from people in Macomia suggesting that the military carried out summary executions in their military headquarters at the town. Mozambican civilians also testified that government forces frequently run away from insurgent attacks, dropping their weapons and taking off their uniforms to hide with civilians in the bush, including on occasions dressing as women in order to blend in.
The Mozambican government, Amnesty said, should conduct independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent investigations into all credible allegations of torture and mistreatment of detainees, executions and the mutilation of bodies, and other serious war crimes by soldiers and the police’s Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) in Cabo Delgado.
It should also investigate the conduct of DAG, which is the ultimate responsibility of the Mozambique government, which has contracted the company, Amnesty said.
Amnesty called on the Southern Africa Development Community to “launch a prompt and impartial investigation into torture and other grave violations committed by security forces in Cabo Delgado,” and try those responsible.
This article was produced by Zitamar and Mediafax under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.