(Johannesburg) – The killing of a prominent opposition leader on October 8, 2016, in Maputo puts ongoing peace talks in Mozambique at risk, Human Rights Watch said today.

Jeremias Pondeca (center) was a member of a team preparing a meeting to end the current military and political hostilities between RENAMO and the government.

© 2016 Zitamar News/ Timothy Haccius

Jeremias Pondeca, 55, was a former member of parliament representing the opposition party RENAMO. He was also a member of a team preparing a meeting between President Filipe Nyusi and the opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama to end the current military and political hostilities between RENAMO and the government.

At least nine other people have died across Mozambique since March 2015 in what seem to be politically motivated killings, which the authorities have failed to properly investigate or prosecute.

“The killing of Jeremias Pondeca is not only a horrendous taking of a life, but is a blow to efforts to resolve Mozambique’s dangerous political situation,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to genuinely investigate past killings provides space for the latest terrible crime.”

Pondeca was shot dead during his morning jog at Maputo’s main beach, Costa do Sol, police reported. His family only learned of his killing a day later, after contacting the authorities to report his disappearance and being told that an unidentified body with bullet wounds had been taken to the morgue. RENAMO officials later informed the media that Pondeca had been killed.

Preliminary police investigations suggest that four men who had been following Pondeca by car, approached the victim and fired two shots at his head and one at his abdomen before fleeing. His car was found parked nearby.

The peace talks, which were due to resume on October 10, were put on hold following Pondeca’s killing.

Human Rights Watch has documented nine previous cases of apparent political killings since March 2015, in which the targets were officials from RENAMO, the ruling party FRELIMO, an outspoken academic who defended a controversial RENAMO petition, and a state official. Both parties have claimed that several other members of their parties have been killed across the country in the past two years.

 
Mozambican law enforcement appears incapable or unwilling to seriously investigate apparent political killings.

Daniel Bekele

Africa director at Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch spoke with witnesses to three of the killings as well as relatives and friends of the nine victims. All allege that the police had not conducted a comprehensive investigation into the cases. In some cases, the police failed to inspect and secure the crime scene before the evidence was compromised.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Attorney General, Beatriz Buchili, on September 12, enquiring about the steps her office had taken to prosecute some of the killings. As of October 10, Buchilli had not replied.

The Mozambican Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), which is the state body responsible for conducting criminal investigations, has publicly promised to investigate all nine cases. However, according to what the police told Human Rights Watch they have not concluded any of the investigations, nor have they been able to identify any suspects, not even for those cases that authorities blamed on RENAMO fighters.

“Mozambican law enforcement appears incapable or unwilling to seriously investigate apparent political killings,” Bekele said. “In either case, its repeated failures have created an environment of impunity and fear.”

Political Killings Since March 2015

On March 3, 2015, constitutional lawyer Gilles Cistac was shot dead outside a cafe in the center of Maputo. Witnesses said he was entering his car outside the building when four unidentified men from another car opened fired, killing Cistac and his driver. Cistac’s family and friends say he had been receiving threats after he publicly defended the disputed constitutionality of RENAMO’s petition to create autonomous provincial authorities.

On August 8, 2015, former agent of the State Intelligence and Security Services, Inlamo Ali Mussa, was shot dead, apparently on the outskirts of Maputo. His family said he was planning to give interviews denouncing alleged abusive practices of Mozambique’s secret services. His body was found a day after he disappeared from his home, with his hands bound and two bullet wounds to his head.

On January 16, 2016, the secretary general of RENAMO, Manuel Bissopo, was shot and severely wounded as he travelled in his car in the center of Beira city, in Sofala province. His bodyguard also died. The incident took place hours after a news conference in which Bissopo had accused state security forces of abducting and killing members of his party.

 The killing of constitutional lawyer Gilles Cistac in March 2015 sparked a protest calling for an end to killings and intimidation.

© 2016 Dercio Tsandzana

On February 4, 2016, senior RENAMO official Filipe Jonasse Machatine was found dead with eight gunshot wounds in Gondola, Manica province, two days after he had been kidnapped by unidentified men.

On March 7, 2016, a senior RENAMO official in Inhambane province, Aly Jane, was found dead after he had disappeared four days earlier. His body, found near the Nhanombe River between Maxixe and Homoíne districts, bore signs of violence.

On April 9, 2016, RENAMO member of the National Council for Defence and Security, José Manuel, was shot dead outside Beira international airport after he had arrived from Maputo. It reportedly took the police about 10 hours to arrive at the scene.

On June 22, 2016, the body of a FRELIMO senior official in Manica province, José Fernando Nguiraze, was found by neighbors with gunshot wounds inside his house. He lived alone because his family had been evacuated for security reasons. Police said the perpetuators of the crime were four RENAMO members who have not been identified.

On September 2, 2016, the administrator of Tica, in Nhamatanda district, Sofala province, Jorge Abílio, was killed by armed men whom the police identified as RENAMO fighters. Abilio was ambushed after attending a community meeting in which he tried to convince local residents not to abandon the region despite frequent clashes between the Mozambican army and RENAMO fighters.

On September 22, 2016, senior RENAMO official in Moatize district and member of the local Tete provincial assembly, Armindo Nkutche, died after being shot six times, on the streets, just hours after speaking at the assembly’s closing session.

Background

After the 1992 peace agreement that ended Mozambique’s 16-year civil war, RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama was allowed to keep a 300-man private armed guard. Successive failures to integrate other RENAMO fighters into the national army and civilian life have encouraged former fighters to join the private guards and to camp in old RENAMO training grounds. RENAMO, a political party that currently holds 89 seats in parliament, is now believed to have an armed force double the size of what it was permitted under the peace agreement.

Over the past four years, tension has increased between RENAMO and the governing party, FRELIMO, including an increase in armed attacks by RENAMO and by government forces. The parties signed a new peace agreement in September 2014, but RENAMO says the government has failed to integrate RENAMO fighters into the national army and police in accordance with the agreement. The government says RENAMO has refused to hand over a list of its militia to be integrated into the security forces because it wants to use them as leverage for political negotiations. FRELIMO won elections in October 2014, but RENAMO says it wants to govern the six provinces in which it claims it received more votes.

Preparations for a meeting between President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, to reach a ceasefire and end the hostilities, started in July. The talks are coordinated by a team of international mediators led by a former Italian diplomat, Mario Raffaelli, a representative of the European Union.