A new statement by Save the Children on the 16th of March has said that children as young as 11 have been beheaded by terrorist groups in Cabo Delgado as conflict continues to ravage Mozambique, displacing thousands.
The humanitarian organisation said it had spoken to displaced families who described violent, “horrifying scenes,” in which children were brutally and publicly killed. Elsa, 28, mother of Filipe, 12, described how he was beheaded near to where she was hiding with her other three children. Elsa said, “that night our village was attacked, and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children. We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.” Another grieving mother, Amelia, aged 29, explained how her 11 year old son was horrifically murdered by armed men, describing how afterwards, she fled with her family to another village only to witness similar attacks just days later.
Save the Children’s country director in Mozambique, Chance Briggs, said reports of attacks on children “sicken us to our core,” adding that “the violence has to stop and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from trauma.”
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, 2,700 people have died, nearly 670,000 have fled their homes, and over 900,000 suffer from food shortages since this conflict began in 2017. Attacks are carried out by the rebel group known as Ansar al-Sunna who, on March 10th, were designated by the American Government’s State Department to be a branch of Islamic State with ties to IS in Syria and Iraq. This designation comes as violence has significantly increased within the region. Last year alone saw over 433 attacks by jihadists, more than the two previous years combined which included brutal mass killings such as the murder of about 52 people at once in the village of Xitaxi in April 2020.
While states including South Africa, Portugal and the US have promised military intervention within the region, including the deployment of green berets by the United States to train local security forces, some analysts believe that Ansar al-Sunna’s links to IS are tenuous and over simplified. “Clearly, the US is trying to extend its influence,” says Jasmine Opperman, an analyst for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled). Amnesty International found earlier this month that war crimes were being committed by both sides of the conflict, with government forces also charged with violence and torture against civilians, claims the government vehemently denies.
Despite these horrendous atrocities against men, women and children continuing daily, independent witnesses are not being allowed into Cabo Delgado. The government has expelled journalists and humanitarian aid workers out of the capital, also denying visas to U.N. staff. It appears that Mozambique’s government does not want external journalists or witnesses to see what the current security situation is within the region, indicating the possibility of potential war crimes on both sides and evidence of the corrupt, dysfunctional government that many argue has fuelled this insurgency.
The introduction of an international peacekeeping agency now seems appropriate given that local government intervention appears to be ineffective at best and inflammatory at its worst. The UN and NATO must now step in to bring peace to the region. Foreign aid agencies and international witnesses must also be freely allowed into Cabo Delgado to aid the thousands that have been displaced because of the conflict and ensure that both foreign and domestic powers operate according to international human rights laws.