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Events of 2022

Displaced families from the community of Impire, a town in the district of Metuge in the Cabo Delgado province, flee on June 14, 2022, armed insurgents who attacked their community on June 12th.

© 2022 ALFREDO ZUNIGA/AFP via Getty Images

The humanitarian situation in Mozambique worsened in 2022 amid ongoing attacks by an Islamic State (ISIS)-linked group locally known as “Mashababos” or Al-Shabab. Mozambican forces, with the support of troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional force, have significantly increased their presence in the region and recovered areas previously under the control of the insurgents.

The situation remained volatile in 2022, with fighting shifting to southern areas of Cabo Delgado and northern areas of Nampula province that had not experienced attacks before.

Government security forces across the country continued to use force and arbitrary detentions to restrict people’s right to peacefully protest. Press freedom came under pressure as new laws limiting freedom of expression and the work of journalists and were debated or passed in the national parliament. The European Union approved additional military support for the SADC mission to Mozambique (SAMIM). Mozambique was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for a two-year membership starting on January 2023.

Violence in Northern Mozambique

The humanitarian situation in northern Mozambique worsened as attacks by an Islamic State (ISIS)-linked group, known locally as Al-Shabab or “Mashababos” led to a spike in abductions and destruction of homes by the armed group. The violence has displaced thousands of people, and by the end of August, more than 946,000 were internally displaced in northern Mozambique after fleeing their homes in Cabo Delgado province.

In early March, local Al-Shabab fighters reportedly killed at least 15 civilians in the villages of Mbuidi, Malamba, and Nangõmba, in Nangade district, Cabo Delgado province.

In June, the group staged a series of attacks in Ancuabe district, 45 kilometers from the provincial capital, Pemba, an area previously considered safe, killing at least seven people, four of whom they beheaded, and forcing thousands to flee their homes. Several people who fled the attacks told Human Rights Watch that hundreds of children had gone missing, as they fled separate ways from their parents, neighbors, and family members.

In September, the ISIS-linked group claimed responsibility for attacks on several villages in northern Mozambique, including two in Nampula province. Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch that armed men burned homes, a school, and a church in the Catholic Comboni Mission in the town of Chipene in Nampula. Many civilians were killed, including an Italian nun.

Right to Peaceful Protest

State security forces used lethal force and arbitrary arrest and detention to limit people's right to peaceful protest across the country.

In January, a group of women activists led by Observatorio da Mulher (Women Observatory) opened a formal complaint with the Attorney’s General Office against police officers who in December 2021 forcibly broke up a peaceful protest against gender-based violence. During the protest, which was organized as part of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women campaign, police arbitrarily arrested at least 17 women, who were released on the same day. As of September 2022, the case was still under investigation.

In April, during a session in parliament, the minister of interior, Arsenia Massingue, pledged to punish police officers who unlawfully prevented the right to peaceful protest. Despite the minister’s comments, members of the security forces continued with impunity to prevent peaceful protests.

In August, police used live bullets to disperse hundreds of unarmed market traders in Gondola, Manica province, who were demanding better work conditions. At least three people were injured and 21 arrested. Also in August, police used tear gas to disperse a crowd at the Maputo fish market, where mostly women were protesting lack of compensation for being transferred from the old to the new market.

Freedom of Media and Expression

Press freedom was under pressure as new laws limiting the work of journalists and freedom of expression were debated or passed in the national parliament. Lawmakers continued to hold public hearings on the proposed drafts of a new media law and a new broadcasting law that were introduced in 2021, which local and international groups said would “criminalize the work of journalists.”

The draft law bans rebroadcasting of foreign political shows, and limits the number of correspondents from international broadcasters and other foreign media to two per outlet. The draft law also includes a provision that limits the right of journalists to defend themselves in cases of defamation against the president. At time of writing, parliament had not scheduled a date for the final debate and approval of the draft laws.

In May, parliament approved a new counterterrorism law with a clause stating that anyone intentionally spreading false information about a terrorist act can be punished with a prison term of 8 to 12 years. The law also includes prison terms of between 12 and 16 years for anyone who publishes “classified information.”

The media rights group MISA-Mozambique urged parliament to amend the law, saying that “criminalizing the publication of classified information punished journalists and ordinary citizens, rather than the officials who failed in their duty to safeguard state secrets.” Despite growing opposition from local and international media rights groups, the law was published in the government gazette in July.

Unresolved Kidnappings  

Police officers continued to be implicated in cases of kidnappings for ransom across the country. In May, the Mozambican Criminal Investigation Service (Sernic) announced the arrest of three members of a gang of kidnappers, two of whom were members of the national police force, and one a Sernic agent.

In April, Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili denounced police complicity in cases of kidnappings in Mozambique in her annual report on the country’s state of justice. She claimed the involvement of some “members of the police, lawyers, magistrates, and other figures in the judiciary creates fragilities in investigating these cases." In February, President Filipe Nyusi said it was unacceptable that police stations had been transformed “into breeding grounds for kidnappers.”

In May, the National Police chief, Bernardino Rafael, announced that of out the six cases of kidnapping of businesspeople or their relatives reported in the first quarter of 2022, only one was resolved, after the family paid an undisclosed amount of ransom.

In May alone, two cases of kidnapping were reported in the capital, Maputo. One of the cases involved the son of a businessman who was kidnapped near his house in a well- secured area, close to the president’s office.

In July, a businessman and owner of a hotel in Maputo was kidnapped by unknown men in front of his house, which is located between both the houses of the national police chief and the head of the State Information and Security Service (SISE).

Key International Partners

International partners continued to respond to requests from the Mozambican government to support in its military operations against Islamist armed groups in northern Mozambique.

In April, the United States government named Mozambique a priority country for the US Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability. The US Strategy aims to support a locally led approach to address the causes of conflict and strengthen the foundation of stability. In July, the US Congress sent a bipartisan delegation to Mozambique, and in August, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the Mozambique government to protect its civilians and restore security in Cabo Delgado.

In June, the SAMIM began implementing the Peace Building Support initiatives in the northern part of the country. The program was designed to enhance social protection mechanisms, law and order, humanitarian assistance and capacity building initiatives in areas under attack from armed groups.

Also in June, Mozambique was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. During the two-year term starting on January 1, 2023, President Nyusi said Mozambique would contribute to building peace in the world, advocating dialogue and multilateralism.

In September, the European Union approved about US$15 million in additional military support for the SAMIM, in Cabo Delgado, under the bloc’s European Peace Facility. Also in September, during a visit to the country, EU High Representative Josep Borrell announced that Rwandan troops in Mozambique would receive EU financial support. Borrell referenced the need for a multifaceted approach and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law to successfully fight terrorism, but did not call for accountability for abuses committed by security forces.