Leaders from across Southern Africa met in Angola’s capital, Luanda, this week to discuss, among other issues, their military mission in the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique. Civilians in the region have suffered horrendous human rights abuses at the hands of the Islamic State-linked armed group Al-Shabab and the Mozambican forces fighting them.
Since 2021, thousands of soldiers from different countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been deployed to northern Mozambique to assist the government’s fight against the armed group. While the regional troops have been credited with helping to secure towns, allowing safer passage of humanitarian aid and the return of thousands of displaced people to their villages, they have also been implicated in abuses, notably the mistreatment of the dead.
In January, a video appeared on social media showing South African soldiers throwing a corpse over a pile of burning rubble apparently containing other bodies. International humanitarian law prohibits the mutilation and other mistreatment of the dead. SADC leaders were quick to condemn the acts in the video and announced an investigation. But eight months later, the regional organization has yet to publish their findings. During this week’s Luanda summit, SADC leaders endorsed the extension of the mission in Mozambique by one year but made no public comments about how they intend to address further abuses by their troops.
SADC members have international legal obligations to address alleged war crimes by their forces and ensure accountability and justice for rights abuses in their military operation in northern Mozambique. They should demonstrate commitment to protecting people’s rights now. This starts with publishing the findings of the announced investigation into abuses by their troops and assist the Mozambican authorities to investigate all allegations of abuse and provide redress for victims.