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Human Rights Watch World Report 1990 - Mozambique

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1991
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1990 - Mozambique, 1 January 1991, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca2a12.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1990

Human Rights Developments

Mozambique has been beset by civil war for most of the last 30 years. First, the nationalist forces of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) fought the Portuguese colonial authorities, who were responsible for large-scale massacres of civilians and other human rights abuses. Then, since soon after independence in 1975, the FRELIMO government has faced an armed insurgency, the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), which was backed initially by Rhodesia and later by South Africa. In this war, too, appalling abuses have been committed. Human rights violations by RENAMO – which include killings, mutilation, abduction and hostage-taking – have become well known, in part because of a report by Robert Gersony, commissioned by the US State Department and published in 1988. However, there have also been serious abuses on the government side, notably killings, torture and long-term detention without trial. The war has displaced three million people, or one-fifth of the population; there are more than 800,000 refugees in Malawi alone. Five million Mozambicans depend on food aid.

In 1990, the Mozambican government took dramatic steps to guarantee human rights and to end the civil conflict. In January, a new draft Constitution was announced, which included a judicially enforced Bill of Rights containing guarantees of the right to life, the right not to be subject to torture, freedom of conscience, religion and association, and various internationally accepted norms for a fair trial. After public and parliamentary debate, various other rights were added, notably a guarantee of press freedom and the transformation of Mozambique into a multiparty system. The document was finally approved in November.

Also in November, the government began a third round of peace talks with RENAMO. (Earlier negotiations, beginning in 1989, had failed to produce results.) At the beginning of December, a partial ceasefire was announced – apparently a major breakthrough.

None of these developments came out of the blue. The legal system, in particular, has undergone a major restructuring in recent years designed to protect the rights of prisoners. Until 1988, those charged with crimes against the state were tried by a Revolutionary Military Tribunal – part of a state-security court system which was distinct from the ordinary judicial structure based on Portuguese civil law. Trials before the Revolutionary Military Tribunal were often summary, and those who came under its jurisdiction had no right to appeal or to petition for habeas corpus.

In 1988, a Supreme People's Court was established as the country's highest judicial body. This led to the abolition of the Revolutionary Military Tribunal. Security cases are now heard before regular provincial-level courts, with a right of appeal to the Supreme People's Court (known as the Supreme Court under the new Constitution). While these developments represent a considerable improvement in theory, Africa Watch remains concerned that in practice security prisoners still are not adequately informed of their legal rights, often lack proper legal representation, and receive trials which fall short of internationally accepted standards of fairness. This is a particular problem in the provinces, where there is a chronic shortage of lawyers and general dislocation as a result of the war. Africa Watch has also observed similar shortcomings in security cases heard in Maputo.

The security police (SNASP) retain extensive powers of detention, including the authority to detain those accused of economic and political crimes against the state. In September 1989, the government restored the right of SNASP prisoners to petition for habeas corpus. Ostensibly, these prisoners now have the same rights as other prisoners – the right to counsel and the right to be charged or released within a certain period.

A continuing area of concern for Africa Watch is the forced removal of populations in the course of government counterinsurgency operations, resulting in acute shortages of food for those displaced. In a number of districts of the northern province of Zambezia, people who had been living in RENAMO-controlled areas were forced from their homes, where they had been able to provide adequately for themselves, to camps, where there was no food and poor sanitation. In Mugulama, for example, the displaced had been under army control for two months beginning in January 1990 before relief agencies were told of their presence. It was reported that 20 to 30 were dying of starvation daily. Challenged on this practice, the government claimed that it was moving people for their own protection.

US Policy

The US embassy in Maputo has played a positive role in reinforcing the Mozambican government's moves to enshrine human rights protection in law. In particular, Ambassador Melissa Wells, who left Mozambique in late 1990, was instrumental in encouraging President Joaquim Chissano along the path of reform.

Mozambique has become one of the largest recipients of US aid in sub-Saharan Africa, with a total of $51 million proposed for fiscal year 1991. (The figure is so high because of nearly $30 million in PL480 Title II food aid.) Within this large figure are a number of small but useful expenditures. For example, the United States funds the National Institute for Legal Assistance (INAJ), which is at present the only source of legal advice in the country; it provides typewriters for rural courts and law books to the university, and during 1990 funded a conference of international jurists on the draft Constitution.

In January, after the publication of the new Constitution, the Bush administration removed Mozambique from the list of Marxist-Leninist states barred from receiving Export-Import Bank assistance. The rationale for the move was not only improved respect for human rights, but also changes in economic policy – in particular, Mozambique's recent membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and its adherence to an IMF structural-adjustment program.

The Work of Africa Watch

Africa Watch began work on Mozambique only in late 1990. A research team visited the country in October and November, where it met President Joaquim Chissano, Minister of Justice Ussumane Aly Dauto and other officials. It also attended court hearings and interviewed prisoners. One member of the team stayed on in Mozambique, while the second plans to return in early 1991. Future research will focus on the situation in the war zones, leading to a report to be published in 1991.

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