A shocking video of the brutal beating and execution of a naked woman in northern Mozambique, who was shot 36 times by men in military uniforms, has cast a spotlight on alleged atrocities by the country’s armed forces in their battle with Islamist insurgents.
The video, verified by Amnesty International on Tuesday, shows the fleeing woman as she is pursued down a rural road by several men in the uniform of Mozambique’s army. After one man beats her with a stick, she screams and tries to protect herself. The men then shoot her repeatedly with assault rifles and walk away calmly from her dead body.
The video, which circulated widely on social media in Mozambique this week, is the latest evidence of escalating atrocities and violent abuses by soldiers in the Cabo Delgado region, where an armed insurgency has jeopardized the government’s control of a natural gas project that has attracted multibillion-dollar investments from European and U.S. energy companies.
Mozambique’s defence ministry said it was horrified by the “barbaric” incident, but it said the “authenticity” of the video must be investigated.
Amnesty International said it had verified the video was filmed in Cabo Delgado near the town of Awasse, where the Mozambique army had launched an offensive against the insurgents. Amnesty also verified the military uniforms and other evidence that the gunmen were soldiers. The video was likely filmed on Sept. 7 during the military operation, it said.
The men in military uniform, speaking Portuguese, refer to the woman as “al-Shabaab” – the local name for the insurgents, who have no connection to Somalia’s al-Shabab militia. “We’ve just killed al-Shabaab,” the men say as they walk away from the dead woman, according to Amnesty’s report.
“This horrendous video is yet another gruesome example of the gross human rights violations and merciless killings taking place in Cabo Delgado by the Mozambican security forces,” Deprose Muchena, the Amnesty director for East and Southern Africa, said in a statement on Tuesday.
He said the killing of the woman was consistent with Amnesty’s earlier findings of military crimes against detainees in northern Mozambique, including the attempted beheading and torture of prisoners, the dismemberment of alleged opposition fighters and the dumping of bodies in mass graves.
“It demonstrates a repeated and unrelenting pattern of crimes being committed by the Mozambican armed forces,” Mr. Muchena said, calling for a full investigation and the prosecution of the perpetrators.
Amnesty said it spoke to a military source in Cabo Delgado who provided a “bizarre justification” for the killing of the woman. The source said the woman had “cast a spell” on the Mozambican soldiers and refused to disclose the hideout of the insurgents, Amnesty said.
Human Rights Watch and Mozambique’s national human-rights commission, in separate statements this week, have also called for investigations of the reported abuses by Mozambican soldiers.
The alleged atrocities have become more common after the insurgents dramatically intensified their attacks in recent months. Mozambique’s army is reported to be poorly trained, inexperienced and badly equipped, allowing the insurgents to make gains.
In August, in a major setback for the government, the rebels captured the strategic port city of Mocimboa da Praia, which they still hold. The port is the gateway to a US$20-billion offshore gas project, led by the French multinational Total.
The gas boom in northern Mozambique has attracted a combined total of about US$55-billion in planned investments so far, potentially helping to lift the country out of deep poverty. But security for the project has become a major concern.
Since the insurgency began three years ago, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in Cabo Delgado. Including combatants on both sides, the death toll has climbed to more than 1,800 people. There are growing fears the conflict could spill over international borders to other countries in southern Africa.
Mozambique recruited military assistance from a Kremlin-linked Russian mercenary unit last year in an attempt to crush the insurgency, but instead the rebellion has continued to grow.
The South African government has said it “stands ready” to help Mozambique fight the insurgency, but it says it is still waiting for Mozambique to make a specific request for assistance. Analysts say the southern African bloc of countries, known as SADC, has shown little interest in joining the military battle.
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