There is increasing concern about the worsening security situation in Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described on Friday as “desperate”.
UN agencies have warned that civilians – and especially women and children – have endured dreadful human rights violations that include numerous attacks, kidnapping and reported beheadings by armed groups, who have also clashed with government forces.
There are additional humanitarian concerns about Cabo Delgado as it is among the worst affected areas from COVID-19.
“It is paramount that State authorities ensure the protection of civilians inside and outside the conflict-affected areas and that humanitarian agencies are guaranteed safe, unhindered access to deliver life-saving assistance and protection,” said rights chief, Michelle Bachelet. “This is particularly crucial given the risk of cholera and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Since 2017, at least 355,000 people have fled the gas and mineral rich province, where violence has increased in the last two weeks.
In an appeal to all parties, the UN High Commissioner urged all armed actors to take urgent measures to protect civilians.
‘Hiding in the bush’
She pointed out that thousands of people are believed to be trapped in conflict areas, with many “hiding in the bush” for days, amid alleged killings, maiming, looting, destruction of houses and public and religious facilities; abductions and abuses of girls and women; as well as the possible forced recruitment of children.
Because of the difficulty in safely accessing communities, these reports have proved difficult to verify, the High Commissioner’s office noted.
“The situation is desperate both for those trapped in conflict-affected areas, with barely any means of surviving, and for those displaced across the province and beyond”, she said.
Dying while trying to flee
“Those who remain have been left deprived of basic necessities and are at risk of being killed, sexually abused, kidnapped, or forcibly recruited by armed groups. Those that flee may die trying.”
Civilians – including the elderly and those with disabilities – remain trapped in parts of Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, the agency said, noting that thousands of people have also fled the Muidumbe district after repeated attacks on several villages in the last week.
“Extreme brutality” has also been unleashed on civilians in the Muidumbe district, where schools, health centres, houses and Government facilities have been targeted and destroyed.
Those fleeing have found refuge in Mueda district but more people are expected to flee in anticipation of fresh attacks, said spokesperson Babar Baloch.
He added that others have continued to arrive at Paquitequete beach, in Pemba district, mainly from Macomia, Quissanga and Ibo island.
In the last month, more than 14,300 displaced people have arrived in the provincial capital Pemba.
Bleak beach existence
“Hundreds are living on the beach in precarious conditions and clean drinking water is the most urgent need”, Mr. Baloch said, highlighting a lack of hygiene, sanitation and overcrowding.
To help meet people’s “most basic” requirements”, UNHCR has appealed for $19.2 million.
“People living in these areas whose rights have been violated are entitled to protection and remedy,” Bachelet said. “All alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by the armed groups and security forces must be thoroughly, independently and transparently investigated by the competent authorities. Those responsible must be held to account.”