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Mozambican army soldiers patrol the streets of Mocimboa da Praia in March 2018. © 2018 Adrien Barbier/AFP/Getty Images

(Maputo) – Mozambican authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the apparent summary execution of an unarmed and naked woman by men wearing army uniforms. The killing, which was captured on an unverified video that went viral on social media, comes amid allegations of abuses by government soldiers in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where they are battling an Islamist armed group.

The Mozambican Armed Defense Forces (FADM) released a statement on September 14, 2020 calling the video footage “shocking and horrifying.” But the military neither confirmed nor denied that the men in the video were government soldiers. The following day, Interior Minister Amade Miquidade, claimed that the video was a deliberate attempt to denigrate the defense and security forces. The previous week, a Mozambican Defense Ministry spokesman had said that “terrorists” operating in Cabo Delgado “pass themselves off as members of the defense and security forces to confuse national and international public opinion.”

“The gruesome execution of an unarmed and naked woman requires swift action from the Mozambican authorities to identify and appropriately punish those responsible,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Mozambican government has a responsibility to protect anyone who is in custody and investigate alleged abuses against them.”

In the video, a group of men wearing army uniforms chase a woman along a deserted road, shouting at her in Portuguese. One of the men can be heard asking another one not to film them. As they walk toward the woman, they refer to her as “al-Shabab” – a local term for the group that has been battling government forces in Cabo Delgado since October 2017. One of the men then hits her on the head and body with a stick. The other men shoot her over 30 times, with AK-47 assault rifles, as she tries to flee. They leave her body on the ground. As they walk back, a man can be heard saying, “We killed the al-Shabab.”

As part of their investigation, the authorities should seek to identify the woman and notify and provide assistance to her family, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch could not verify the authenticity of the video or the exact location where it was filmed. But three people familiar with Cabo Delgado province told Human Rights Watch that the location appeared to be near a power station on the road between Diaca and Awasse town, in Mocímboa da Praia district. A large contingent of soldiers was deployed to the region following recent attacks by insurgents.

Mocímboa da Praia district has been a center of many battles between government forces and insurgents since 2017. At that time, members of the Islamist group, affiliated with the Islamic State, known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a (ASWJ) attacked a string of police stations in the area, causing two days of government lockdowns. In August, the group temporarily took control of the district’s port town, after defeating government forces.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented alleged human rights abuses by both sides in Cabo Delgado, including killings, kidnappings, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment of detainees. No one has been held to account for these abuses.

International human rights and humanitarian law to which Mozambique is bound prohibits summary, extrajudicial, or arbitrary executions, and torture and other ill-treatment of people in custody.

“The Mozambican authorities should ensure that security forces, including those deployed to areas of conflict, respect human rights and protect everyone in their custody,” Mavhinga said. “Properly punishing those who execute or otherwise harm civilians and captured combatants will send a clear message that Mozambique supports human rights and opposes these horrific acts.”

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