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Mozambique Legalizes Militia to Fight Insurgency in North

Clarify Government-Linked Force’s Mandate, Investigate Abusive Members

Mozambican soldiers in Mocímboa da Praia, in Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique, on September 27, 2022. © 2022 Camille Lafont/AFP via Getty Images

by Nirvaly Mooloo, Intern, Africa Division

Mozambique’s government has provided legal authority to an abusive militia to fight an Islamic State-linked armed group, locally known as Al-Shabab, in the north of the country. Opposition parties have called this local militia a “paramilitary force linked to the ruling party.”

The Mozambican government first acknowledged it was collaborating with the militia in 2020. But media reports suggest that the group, largely consisting of demobilized soldiers, has been operational since 2018 when former soldiers first offered to fight the insurgency. They have since been operating without oversight, accountability, or a legal mandate, and their activities have often been associated with unlawful killings and other human rights abuses.

In December, the local newspaper Evidencias reported that residents of Muidumbe district, in Cabo Delgado, accused members of the militia force of extorting money from people stopped at checkpoints. In 2020, the militia reportedly killed over 30 Al-Shabab fighters during a major attack in Muidumbe district and over 270 more during a joint operation with government soldiers in Mueda district.

Since Al-Shabab began their insurgency in northern Mozambique more than five years ago, civilians have suffered horrendous abuses from government security forces and Al-Shabab fighters.

The Mozambican government has been unable or unwilling to hold accountable members of its security forces implicated in extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment of detainees.

The authorities should be focusing on improving the human rights training and professionalism of its regular troops and holding those responsible for abuses to account. Instead, they have chosen the dangerous path of formalizing relations with an untrained and seemingly uncontrollable militia. And they have done so without providing any public details on how they intend to stop this group from committing further abuses.

The Mozambique government should ensure that all government-linked forces operate within legal standards and do not violate international humanitarian law. This starts with publicly clarifying their mandate and bringing those responsible for abuses to account.

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