Sir John Chilcot's report on lessons to be learned from the 2003 invasion of Iraq has taken seven years to produce. David Cameron has said it should not be about "punishing" British soldiers, but holding senior people to account. However, 13 years of numerous inquiries and criminal investigations into alleged war crimes by UK military personnel in Iraq have so far produced little in terms of criminal accountability, especially for senior military and political figures.

The mother and son of Baha Mousa hold pictures of him at their house in Basra on September 7, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

Now that Chilcot's report is out there will be many calls to put senior people on trial for 'war crimes' – including at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. But the ICC is not in a position to do this concerning the actual decision to invade Iraq. The court does not have the authority – yet - to prosecute people for the crime of 'aggression', such as the unlawful military invasion of another country.

But the ICC, which the UK helped establish, does have jurisdiction over 'war crimes' committed during a conflict or military occupation itself. While the ICC is designed to be a court of last resort, its prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has opened a preliminary examination into alleged war crimes by UK nationals in Iraq. Bensouda's office will consider whether the gravity of war crimes — provided there is evidence for them —warrant its involvement and, crucially, whether the UK authorities are willing and able to properly investigate and prosecute war crimes themselves.

Allegations of war crimes by some UK soldiers quickly surfaced after the invasion, but more than a decade on we are little advanced in knowing the whole truth about these claims, let alone in seeing anyone put on trial. Two public inquiries into specific incidents were forced on reluctant British governments by UK courts.

The first, in 2011, found that Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist, had died in British custody in Basra in 2003 after suffering at least 93 injuries over two days of abuse, including food and water deprivation.

The second, the Al Sweady inquiry in 2014, dismissed allegations of deliberate murder of detainees in a 2004 incident, but still found that UK interrogators had committed serious abuses against Iraqis – including deprivation of food and sleep and sight – that have all previously been found to constitute torture. Hundreds more allegations of abuse of detainees by UK nationals have been submitted to various courts, including the ICC.

So far, many of these allegations have not been properly investigated. It seems the only UK conviction for war crimes in Iraq is of Corporal Donald Payne, who received a one-year prison sentence in 2006 after pleading guilty to the war crime of inhumane treatment in connection with the death of Baha Mousa. In 2010 the government set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team to conduct criminal investigations into alleged war crimes, but six years on there are still no new prosecutions. The findings of serious abuses in the Baha Mousa and Al Sweady inquiries did not result in new prosecutions.

UK authorities have also shown little interest in investigating whether senior military and political figures are criminally liable for any war crimes. This is despite a powerful new law of 'command responsibility' enacted in UK law in 2002, which states that military and civilian commanders should be held criminally liable for war crimes committed by people within their chain of command when they knew, or should have known, of the crimes but failed to take necessary measures to prevent them or ensure they were investigated. For civilians – for example politicians commanding the armed forces - the test is whether they knew of the crimes or 'consciously disregarded' information about them.

Given that some of the crimes allegedly carried on for years, that some allegations were published by the British media early on during the occupation, and even that the International Committee of the Red Cross' concerns about abuses in UK detention reached the desks of ministers, one would expect investigations into criminal liability of senior figures to have been launched. But there is no evidence this has happened.

The UK's previous investigative failures suggest it's more important than ever for senior figures to be held accountable after Chilcot. It is vital that UK authorities now launch prompt and thorough investigations into these grave allegations – without governmental interference – both to clear the innocent, and hold those responsible to account. The UK authorities also need to show themselves genuinely willing and capable of investigating senior military and political figures and, if the evidence warrants, prosecuting them for command responsibility for war crimes. The UK clearly has the law and the resources to bring about these prosecutions. But if it is not willing to do so, the ICC could step in.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


On May 30, 2016, judges at the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system will deliver their verdict in the trial of former dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré. Habré faces charges of crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes, and the prosecutor has asked the court to hand down a life sentence. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré was president.

The trial began on July 20, 2015 and ended on February 11, 2016, after testimony from 93 witnesses and final arguments. It was the first trial in the world in which the courts of one country prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It was also the first universal jurisdiction case to proceed to trial in Africa. Universal jurisdiction is a principle of international law that allows national courts to prosecute the most serious crimes even when committed abroad, by a foreigner and against foreign victims. The New York Times has called the case “a milestone for justice in Africa.”

The following questions and answers provide more information on the case.

  1. Who is Hissène Habré?
  2. What are the charges against Habré?
  3. What crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the court?
  4. Why did it take so long to bring Habré to justice?
  5. What was the role of the Chadian government in bringing about Habré’s prosecution?
  6. How did the chambers carry out their investigation?
  7. Why was Hissène Habré the only person standing trial?
  8. What about Idriss Déby, Chad's current president?
  9. What were Habré's rights before the Extraordinary Chambers?
  10. Habré and his chosen lawyers refused to cooperate with the chambers. What effect did that have?
  11. How did the trial proceed?
  12. What were some of the highlights of the prosecution's evidence?
  13. What was the defense lawyers' strategy?
  14. How was information about the trial disseminated? 
  15. What is the maximum punishment Habré could receive if found guilty?
  16. What was the victims' role in the trial?
  17. Will the victims receive reparations?
  18. Can there be an appeal? 
  19. How are the Extraordinary Chambers structured and administered?
  20. How were the prosecutors and judges assigned?
  21. What about the trial in Chad of Habré-era security agents?
  22. How are the chambers funded?
  23. What will happen to the Extraordinary Chambers after the trial? 
  24. What were the key steps in the campaign to bring Habré to justice?
  25. What is the significance of Habré's prosecution under universal jurisdiction?
  26. How does this trial fit into critiques of the role of international justice in Africa and claims that universal jurisdiction cases target Africans?
  27. Why wasn’t Habré prosecuted in Chad?
  28. Why couldn’t the International Criminal Court prosecute Habre?


1. Who is Hissène Habré?

Habré was president of the former French colony of Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by Idriss Déby Itno, the current president. Habré has been living in exile in Senegal ever since.

A 714-page study by Human Rights Watch documented evidence of Habré’s government’s responsibility for widespread political killings, systematic torture, and thousands of arbitrary arrests. The government periodically targeted civilian populations, including in the south (1983-1985), and various ethnic groups such as Chadian Arabs, the Hadjerai (1987) and the Zaghawa (1989-90), killing and arresting group members en masse when the administration perceived that the groups’ leaders posed a threat to Habré’s rule.

A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré's government of systematic torture and said that 40,000 people died during his rule. Most abuses were carried out by his political police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), whose directors reported directly to Habré. The four successive directors belonged to Habré’s inner circle, some to the same ethnic group, Gorane anakaza, and one to the same family as Habré.

The United States and France supported Habré as a bulwark against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who had expansionist designs on northern Chad. Under President Ronald Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA support to help Habré take power in 1982 and then provided his government with massive military aid. The United States also used a clandestine base in Chad to organize captured Libyan soldiers into an anti-Gaddafi force in the late 1980s. Despite the abduction of the French anthropologist Françoise Claustre by Habré’s forces in 1974 and the murder of Captain Pierre Galopin, who went to Chad to negotiate her release in 1975, France also supported Habré against Gaddafi after he took power, providing him with arms, logistical support and information, and carrying out military operations “Manta” (1983) and “Hawk” (1986) to help Chad push back Libyan forces.

2. What are the charges against Habré?

On July 2, 2013 the four investigating judges of the Extraordinary Chambers indicted Habré for crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes. On February 13, 2015, after a 19-month investigation, the judges found sufficient evidence for Habré to face charges of crimes against humanity and torture as a member of a “joint criminal enterprise” and of war crimes on the basis of his “command responsibility.” Specifically, they charged Habré with:

  • The practice of murder, summary executions, and kidnapping followed by enforced disappearance and torture, amounting to crimes against humanity, against the Hadjerai and Zaghawa ethnic groups, the people of southern Chad and political opponents; 
  • Torture; and
  • The war crimes of murder, torture, unlawful transfer and unlawful confinement, and violence to life and physical well-being.  

3. What crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the court?

The chamber’s statute gives it competence over the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture as defined in the statute. The definitions generally track those used in the statutes of the International Criminal Court and other international tribunals. The crimes must have taken place in Chad between June 7, 1982, and December 1, 1990, which correspond to the dates of Habré’s rule.

4. Why did it take so long to bring Habré to justice?

The advent of the trial, almost 25 years after Habré’s fall, is entirely due to the perseverance of Habré’s victims and their allies in nongovernmental groups. When Habré was arrested in July 2013, the Toronto Globe and Mail lauded “one of the world’s most patient and tenacious campaigns for justice.” The New York Times wrote that the “Habré case has stood out because of determined victims who were advised and supported by Human Rights Watch and other advocates.” Habré was first indicted by a Senegalese judge in 2000, but for the next 12 years the Senegalese government of former President Abdoulaye Wade subjected the victims to what the Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 117 groups from 25 African countries described as an “interminable political and legal soap opera.” It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice ordered Senegal to prosecute Habré or extradite him, that progress was made toward the trial. 

5. What was the role of the Chadian government in bringing about Habré’s prosecution?

Habré’s supporters claim that Deby’s government is behind the effort to prosecute him. However, since the victims’ first complaint in 2000, it has been the victims and their supporters who have pressed the case forward, overcoming one obstacle after another. The Chadian government has long expressed its support for Habré’s prosecution, and in 2002 it waived Habré's immunity from prosecution abroad, but it did not otherwise contribute to advancing the case in a meaningful way until it agreed to help finance the court and cooperated with the investigating judges during their four missions to Chad in 2013 and 2014. More recently, the Chadian government seemingly cooled toward the chambers, particularly in Chad’s refusal to transfer additional suspects or to allow Habré-era agents convicted in a separate proceeding in Chad (see below) to testify at Habre’s trial. 

6. How did the chambers carry out their investigation?

The investigating judges began with access to a considerable amount of evidence collected in the years since Habré’s fall, including prior Belgian and Chadian investigations into Habré’s alleged crimes.

A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré's government of systematic torture and said that 40,000 people died during his rule. In addition, the chambers’ judges obtained the extensive file Belgian investigators prepared on Habré during four years, which contains interviews with witnesses and “insiders” who worked alongside Habré, as well as DDS documents.

Most important, the chambers’ four investigating judges conducted their own thorough 19-month investigation, and for the most part relied on evidence they developed themselves.

On May 3, 2013, Senegal and Chad signed a “Judicial cooperation agreement” to facilitate the chambers’ investigation in Chad.

The investigative judges conducted four missions (“commissions rogatoires”) to Chad - in August - September 2013, December 2013, March 2014, and May - June 2014. They were accompanied by the chief prosecutor and his deputies as well as police officers. During their visits, the judges gathered statements from 2,500 direct and indirect victims and key witnesses, including former officials of the Habré government.

The judges took copies of DDS files that Human Rights Watch had recovered  in 2001. Among the tens of thousands of documents were daily lists of prisoners and deaths in detention, interrogation reports, surveillance reports, and death certificates. The files detail how Habré placed the DDS under his direct control and kept tight control over DDS operations. Analysis of the data for Human Rights Watch revealed the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention and 12,321 victims of human rights violations. In these files alone, Habré received 1,265 direct communications from the DDS about the status of 898 detainees.

The judges also appointed experts on data analysis, forensic anthropology, handwriting, the historical context of Habré’s government and the functioning and command structure of Habré’s military.

7. Why was Hissène Habré the only person standing trial?

The Chadian victims’ goal in seeking justice in Senegal since 2000 has been a trial of Habré, the head of state who directly controlled the security apparatus and had primary responsibility for his government’s actions. The victims also filed cases in 2000 in Chad against other officials of Habré’s government who were still in Chad.

Under article 3 of the chambers’ statute, the Extraordinary African Chambers can prosecute “the person or persons most responsible” for international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s rule. In July 2013, the chief prosecutor requested the indictment of five additional officials from Habré’s administration suspected of being responsible for international crimes. These are:

  • Saleh Younous and Guihini Korei, two former directors of the DDS. Korei is Habré’s nephew;
  • Abakar Torbo, former director of the DDS prison service;
  • Mahamat Djibrine, also known as “El Djonto,” one of the “most feared torturers in Chad,” according to the National Truth Commission; and
  • Zakaria Berdei, former special security adviser to the presidency and one of those suspected of responsibility in the repression in the south in 1984.

None of them was brought before the court, however. Younous and Djibrine were convicted in Chad on charges stemming from the complaints filed by victims in the Chadian courts (see below), and Chad refused to extradite them to Senegal. Berdei is also believed to be in Chad, though he is not in custody. The locations of Torbo and Korei are unknown. As a result, only Habré was committed to trial.

8. What about Idriss Déby, Chad’s current president?

President Déby was commander in chief of Habré’s forces during the period known as “Black September,” in 1984, when a murderous wave of repression was unleashed to bring southern Chad back into the fold of the central government. In 1985, Déby was removed from this post, and after a period of study in a military school in France, he was appointed a defense adviser until he left Chad in 1989 to take up arms against Habré.

It is important to note that Article 10 of the chambers’ statute provides that “[t]he official position of an accused, whether as Head of State or Government, or as a responsible government official, shall not relieve him or her of criminal responsibility….” The chambers were thus free to pursue charges against President Déby even though he is currently a head of state, but they did not.

9. What were Habré’s rights before the Extraordinary Chambers?

The process before the Extraordinary Chambers was governed by its own Statute and the Senegalese Code of Criminal Procedure. Habré was entitled to a fair trial in accordance with international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights outline the minimum guarantees that must be afforded to defendants in criminal proceedings.

In accordance with those standards, the chambers’ Statute provides a number of rights to defendants, including:

  • the right to be present during trial;
  • the presumption of innocence;
  • the right to a public hearing;
  • the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense;
  • the right to counsel and legal assistance;
  • the right to be tried without undue delay; and
  • the right to examine and call witnesses.

10. Habré and his chosen lawyers refused to cooperate with the chambers. What effect did that have?

Many defendants facing trial for alleged crimes under international criminal law – such as Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić and Charles Taylor– asserted that they did not recognize the authority of the tribunal or that they would not cooperate, or have sought to use the trial as a platform to present their version of events.

The burden always remains on the prosecution to prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, if the accused decides to not cooperate in their own trial, that inevitably undermines the exercise of their right to an effective defense, which includes the ability to challenge the evidence against them and the opportunity to call into question the prosecution’s case.

After Habré’s lawyers refused to appear at the opening of the trial in July 2015 because they consider the court to be illegitimate, the court appointed three Senegalese lawyers to defend him and adjourned for 45 days so they could prepare. The first day back, on September 7, Habré was brought in to the court by force, kicking and screaming. After that, he was brought into the courtroom for each session before the doors to the public opened. The three court-appointed lawyers played an active role in questioning each witness and challenging the prosecution’s case, but were handicapped by Habré’s refusal to cooperate with them. Habré has remained silent, as is his right, even when the prosecutor tried to question him in line with standard criminal trial procedure in civil law jurisdictions.

11. How did the trial proceed?

The chambers sat for 56 days and heard from 93 witnesses. The trial examined evidence regarding alleged crimes committed during various periods in Chad under Habré: attacks against the Hadjerai ethnic group (1987), the Zaghawas (1989), and southern populations including the so-called “Black September” in 1984; the arrest and torture of political prisoners, and the treatment of prisoners of war. Some of the most moving testimony came from survivors, who described their experience in prisons and camps. Among the other witnesses were experts on that period in Chad, the president of the 1992 Chadian truth commission, former members the DDS, the Belgian judge who carried out a four-year investigation into a complaint filed against Habré in Belgium, a French doctor who treated 581 torture victims, researchers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and forensic, statistical and handwriting experts.

The witnesses, after presenting their testimony to the court, were questioned, in turn, by the prosecutor, the civil party lawyers and Habré’s court-appointed lawyers. The judges, in a departure from the French civil law “inquisitorial” model, generally did not put many questions to the witnesses. 

12. What were some of the highlights of the prosecution’s evidence? 

  • Four women sent to a camp in the desert north of Chad in 1988 testified that they were used as sexual slaves for the army and that soldiers had repeatedly raped multiple women. Two were under 15 at the time. One testified that Habré himself had also raped her. 
  • Other survivors testified that rape of women detainees was frequent in the DDS’s Locaux prison in N’Djaména.
  • Ten witnesses testified that they had personally seen Habré in prison or were sent to prison personally by Habré.
  • Prison survivors said that corpses were kept rotting in jail cells until there were considered to be enough to be taken away.
  • Survivors described the main forms of torture, in particular the “arbatachar,” which involved tying all four of a prisoner's limbs behind their back to interrupt the bloodstream and induce paralysis.
  • Bandjim Bandoum, once a top DDS agent, testified about the agency’s inner workings. He explained that when reports on detainees were sent to the presidency, they came back with annotations: E for “executer - execute”; L for “liberer - set free” or V for “vu - seen.” “Only the president could request a release," he said.
  • A court-appointed handwriting expert confirmed that it was Habré who responded to a request by the International Committee of the Red Cross for the hospitalization of certain prisoners of war by writing “From now on, no prisoner of war can leave the Detention Center except in case of death.”
  • Patrick Ball of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group presented a study of mortality in Habré’s prisons, based on the DDS’s own documents, concluding that prison mortality was “hundreds of times higher than normal mortality for adult men in Chad during the same period” and “substantially higher than some of the twentieth century’s worst POW contexts” such as German prisoners of war in Soviet custody and US prisoners of war in Japanese custody.
  • Experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team carried out exhumations at a number of potential mass grave sites. In Deli, in southern Chad, the site of an alleged killing of unarmed rebels in September 1984, the experts located 21 bodies, almost all military-age men, most of whom were killed by gunshot. In Mongo, in the center of Chad, the experts uncovered 14 bodies from another 1984 massacre.
  • Clement Abaifouta, the president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime, testified that he was forced to bury the bodies of deceased detainees in mass graves.
  • Souleymane Guengueng, the founder of the victims’ association, showed the court crude eating utensils he had carved in jail.
  • Robert Hissein Gambier, who survived five years in prison, earning the nickname “The man who runs faster than death,” said that he counted 2,053 detainees who died in prison. He brought wooden sticks to demonstrate how his head was squeezed as torture.
  • Abdourahmane Guèye, a Senegalese merchant imprisoned in Chad, testified that his release was won through diplomatic negotiations between the Senegalese and Chadian governments. His Senegalese companion, Demba Gaye, died, according to DDS documents, after being placed in the “cell of death” in the Locaux prison.
  • Mahamat Nour Dadji, the child of a close adviser to Habré, testified that the DDS director arrived at their home in Habré’s car saying, “The president needs you.” Dadji was detained with his father, who was never seen again.
  • Bichara Djibrine Ahmat testified that in 1983 he was taken with 149 other Chadian prisoners of war to be executed. Only he survived to take the truth commission 10 years later to find the mass grave. 

13. What was the defense lawyers’ strategy?

The court-appointed lawyers tried to show that Habré himself was not involved in committing crimes, and challenged the credibility of a number of witnesses, particularly those who implicated Habré directly. They asserted that the accusations against Habré were part of an exaggerated media and political campaign originated by Amnesty International and the Chadian truth commission, and then taken up by Human Rights Watch with the support of the current Chadian government.

The lawyers said that Habré was a patriot, committed to defending Chad against Libyan aggression and secessionist rebels. (“If it were not thanks to President Habré, Chad would not be Chad today, but a province of Libya.”) Habré’s response was to combat insurgents but not civilians. The DDS was not under his authority, but under the Interior Ministry. 

14. How was information about the trial disseminated?

The trial was recorded in its entirety, except for some technical problems. It was streamed live on the internet and broadcast on Chadian television. Almost all the sessions have been posted to the internet. Human Rights Watch considers this a major success in ensuring that the trial was meaningful to, and understood by, the people of Chad and Senegal. The landmark nature of this trial made it all the more important that it was available for viewing by the widest possible audience.

The chambers, through a consortium of non-governmental organizations from Senegal, Belgium and Chad that received a contract from the court, undertook outreach programs to both Chad and Senegal. The consortium has trained journalists in both countries, organized public debates, created a website and produced materials to explain the trial.

Human Rights Watch was part of a separate consortium of non-governmental organizations that facilitated the travel of Chadian journalists to Senegal to cover the trial, and the travel of Senegalese journalists to Chad during the pre-trial proceedings.

15. What is the maximum punishment Habré could receive if found guilty? 

If Habré is found guilty, the chambers could impose a sentence of up to life in prison. This is the punishment requested by chief prosecutor Mbacké Fall in his closing statement on February 10. The prosecution also requested the seizure of Habré’s property frozen during the inquiry - two small bank accounts and a property in an upscale Dakar neighborhood.

If Habré is sentenced to prison, he could serve that sentence in Senegal. However the statute also provides that he could serve it “in one of the African Union member States with which Senegal has entered into an agreement concerning the execution of prison sentences.”

16. What was the victims’ role in the trial?

Victims were permitted to participate in proceedings as civil parties. More than 4,000 victims registered as civil parties. Two teams of lawyers represented the civil parties, questioning witnesses, presenting evidence and participating in the closing statements.

The victims also left their mark on the trial through their long campaign for justice as well as their dramatic testimony. An opinion article in The New York Times reflected that “[n]ever in a trial for mass crimes have the victims’ voices been so dominant.”

17. Will the victims receive reparations?

Under its statute, in the event of a conviction, the chambers may order reparations against the accused. These can be paid into a victims’ fund, which can also receive voluntary contributions by foreign governments, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations. Reparations from the victims’ fund will be open to all victims, individually or collectively, whether or not they participated in Habré’s trial.

The chief judge, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has said that if Habré is found guilty, there will be a second set of hearings on damages for the civil parties

In July 2013, after the chambers arrested Habré, President Déby said that the Chadian government would compensate survivors and relatives of those who died. There is also a Chadian court judgment ordering the government to make reparations (see below). Chad’s responsibility under international law to provide reparations to victims of gross human rights violations is separate and distinct from reparations against the accused. 

18. Can there be an appeal?

Whether Habre is found guilty or acquitted, all parties in the trial – that is the prosecution, the accused and the victims with respect to their civil interests, could appeal. Although Habré does not recognize the Chambers’ authority, the court-appointed lawyers could lodge an appeal on his behalf. If an appeal is lodged by any party, an Extraordinary African Appeals Chamber would be constituted to hear the appeal. 

19. How are the Extraordinary Chambers structured and administered?

The Extraordinary African Chambers were created inside the existing Senegalese court structure in Dakar. The chambers have four levels: an Investigative Chamber with four Senegalese investigative judges, an Indicting Chamber of three Senegalese judges, a Trial Chamber, and an Appeals Chamber. The Trial Chamber and the Appeals Chamber each have two Senegalese judges and a president from another African Union member state.

The chambers also have an administrator to ensure the smooth functioning of their activities and to handle all non-judicial aspects of the work. The administrator’s responsibilities include financial management of personnel, outreach and media information, witness protection and assistance, and judicial cooperation between Senegal and other countries, such as Chad. The administrator since the opening of the chambers has been Aly Ciré Ba, a Senegalese magistrate.

20. How were the prosecutors and judges assigned?

The prosecutors and investigative judges were nominated by Senegal’s justice minister and appointed by the chairperson of the AU Commission. The president of the Trial Chamber is Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso. 

21. What about the trial in Chad of Habré-era security agents?

On March 25, 2015, a Chadian criminal court convicted 20 Habré-era security agents on charges of murder, torture, kidnapping and arbitrary detention, based on complaints filed by the same group of victims in 2000 but that were stalled until Senegal created the extraordinary chambers. During the Chad trial, about 50 victims described their torture and mistreatment at the hands of DDS agents. The court sentenced seven men to life in prison, including Saleh Younous, a former director of the DDS, and Mahamat Djibrine, described as one of the “most feared torturers in Chad” by the Truth Commission. Both men were also originally wanted for possible indictment by the chambers, but Chad declined to transfer them. Most of the 20 gave their testimony to the chambers when they visited Chad, but the Chadian government also refused to allow them to travel to Senegal to testify at trial. The Chadian court acquitted four others.

The Chadian court ordered the Chadian government to pay half of the US$125 million in reparations to 7,000 victims and those convicted to pay the other half. The court also ordered the government, within a year, to erect a monument to those who were killed under Habré and to turn the former DDS headquarters a museum. These were both among the long-standing demands of the victims’ associations. One year after the court decision, the Chadian government has not implemented any of these compensatory measures. 

22. How are the chambers funded?

The chambers are funded in large part by donor countries. In November 2012, Senegal and donor countries agreed to a budget of €8.6million (US$11.4 million at the time) to cover Habré’s trial. Commitments were made by: Chad (2 billion CFA francs or US$3,743,000), the European Union (€2 million), the Netherlands (€1 million), the African Union (US$1 million), the United States (US$1 million), Belgium (€500,000), Germany (€500,000), France (€300,000), and Luxembourg (€100,000). The Netherlands has also given extra support to the Outreach consortium. In addition, Canada, Switzerland, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have provided technical assistance. A Steering Committee chaired by the African Union and consisting of Senegal and the donors receives and approves periodic reports from the administrator.

23. What will happen to the Extraordinary Chambers after the trial?

The Extraordinary African Chambers will be dissolved once the judgment in the case of Hissène Habré is final.

24. What were the key steps in the campaign to bring Habré to justice?

In January 2000, inspired by the London arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a group of Chadian victims filed a complaint against Habré in Senegal. In February of the same year, a Senegalese judge indicted Habré on charges of torture, crimes against humanity, and “barbaric acts.” However, after political interference by the new Senegalese government of President Abdoulaye Wade, which was criticized by two UN human rights rapporteurs, appellate courts dismissed the case on the ground that Senegalese courts lacked competence to try crimes committed abroad.

Other Habré government victims, including three Belgian citizens of Chadian origin, then filed a case against Habré in Belgium in November 2000. The Belgian authorities investigated the case for four years, then indicted Habré in 2005 and sought his extradition. A Senegalese court ruled that it lacked competence to decide on the extradition request.

Senegal then turned to the African Union, which in July 2006 called on Senegal to prosecute Habré “on behalf of Africa” before its own courts. President Wade accepted the AU mandate and Senegalese law was amended to give the country’s courts explicit universal jurisdiction over international crimes, including torture and crimes against humanity. However, Wade contended that Senegal needed full up-front international funding of €27.4 million (US$36.5 million) before beginning any prosecution. Three years of halting negotiations over the trial budget ensued, until Senegal and donor countries finally agreed in November 2010 to a budget of €8.6 million (US$11.4 million) for Habré’s trial.

Just days before the budget agreement, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that Habré should be tried before a “special ad hoc procedure of an international character.” In January 2011, the AU responded to the ECOWAS court ruling by proposing a plan for special chambers within the Senegalese justice system with some judges appointed by the AU. Senegal rejected the plan, and in May 2011, withdrew from negotiations with the AU over creation of the tribunal.

In July 2011, Senegal’s foreign minister ruled out holding Habré's trial in Senegal. The Chadian government then announced its support for extraditing Habré to Belgium to face trial.

In 2011 and 2012, Belgium issued three more extradition requests, which were not properly transmitted by the Senegalese authorities to its courts.

On July 20, 2012, in response to a suit brought by Belgium, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest judicial organ, found that Senegal had failed to meet its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and ordered Senegal to prosecute Habré “without further delay” if it did not extradite him.

The new Senegalese government of Macky Sall reacted quickly to the ICJ decision, expressing regret that Habré’s trial had not taken place sooner and reaffirming its commitment to begin proceedings quickly. Negotiations resumed between Senegal and the AU, ultimately leading to an agreement to create the Extraordinary African Chambers to conduct proceedings within the Senegalese judicial system. On December 17, the Senegalese National Assembly adopted a law establishing the special chambers. On February 8, 2013, the Extraordinary African Chambers were inaugurated in Dakar.

25. What is the significance of Habré’s prosecution under universal jurisdiction?

As demonstrated by the Habré case, universal jurisdiction is an important safety net to ensure that suspects of atrocities do not enjoy impunity in a third state when they cannot be prosecuted before the courts of the country where the crimes were allegedly committed or before an international court. There has been an increase in the use of universal jurisdiction over the past 20 years, notably but not exclusively by courts in European countries. To strengthen the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes, it is critical for courts on all continents to use universal jurisdiction. The African Union has encouraged its member states to adopt legislation to give their national courts universal jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and has taken steps to initiate a network of national prosecutors working on war crimes cases. Several investigations have been opened in South Africa and Senegal on the basis of universal jurisdiction.

26. How does this trial fit into critiques of the role of international justice in Africa and claims that universal jurisdiction cases target Africans?

Habré’s trial is an important step forward in African states taking responsibility to prosecute serious international crimes. However, the Habré trial does not negate the importance of the ICC and the use of universal jurisdiction by non-African states, including European courts, for crimes committed in Africa. These tools are often the only available hope for justice for African victims.

International justice has been applied unevenly. Powerful countries and their allies have often been able to avoid justice when serious crimes are committed on their territories, notably by failing to ratify the ICC treaty and wielding their political influence at the UN Security Council.

Nongovernmental organizations have actively campaigned for African governments to work to improve international justice and its reach —as opposed to undermining it— to limit impunity for atrocities. 

27. Why isn’t Habré prosecuted in Chad?

Chad never sought Habré’s extradition, and there are serious doubts that Habré could have gotten a fair trial in Chad, where he had been sentenced to death in absentia for his alleged role in a 2008 rebellion. In July 2011, President Wade threatened to expel Habré to Chad but, days later, retracted his decision in the face of an international outcry over the risk that Habré would be mistreated or even killed. 

28. Why couldn’t the International Criminal Court prosecute Habré?

The International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction over crimes committed after July 1, 2002, when its statute entered into effect. The crimes of which Hissène Habré is accused took place between 1982 and 1990.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's international justice program since it was founded in 2001, has worked at Human Rights Watch since 1991. He started working on international justice issues in 1994 when Human Rights Watch attempted to bring a case before the International Court of Justice charging the government of Iraq with genocide against the Kurds. Dicker later led the Human Rights Watch multi-year campaign to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). He continues to be closely involved on issues that are important at the ICC. He has also spent the past few years leading advocacy efforts urging the creation of effective accountability mechanisms. He monitored the Slobodan Milosevic trial in The Hague and made many trips to Iraq before and at the start of Saddam Hussein's trial. A former civil rights attorney in New York, Dicker graduated from New York University Law School and received his LLM from Columbia University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

As Co-Director of the US Program, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno guides Human Rights Watch’s work on criminal justice, drug policy, immigration, national security, and surveillance in the United States.

Previously, as Deputy Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, McFarland Sánchez-Moreno conducted advocacy before the US government on a wide array of global human rights issues, including matters related to the Middle East and North Africa during the “Arab uprisings” of 2011. Earlier, she held the position of Senior Americas Researcher, covering Colombia's internal armed conflict and working on the extradition and trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.

McFarland Sánchez-Moreno is the author of the narrative non-fiction book There Are No Dead Here: A Story of Murder and Denial in Colombia, forthcoming from Nation Books in February 2018. She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law and did most of her undergraduate studies in Lima, Peru, before completing her BA at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a native speaker of both Spanish and English.


"Your Reaction to NSA Curbs," on BBC World Service’s “World Have Your Say” (January 2014)

"Deadly Threats: Successors to the Paramilitaries in Colombia ," (February 2010)

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Oby Theodora Nwankwo, a Nigerian activist who tirelessly advocated for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and women’s rights, died on December 9, 2017. She was 61 years old.

I got to know Oby through our common work to push back against unprincipled attacks by some African leaders on the ICC. The attacks surged after the ICC issued arrest warrants in 2009 and 2010 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

 © Oby Nwankwo/Facebook

At the time, people had limited knowledge of the ICC’s role as a court of last resort, and many did not know that several African governments had requested the ICC to investigate crimes in their countries. The court’s critics exploited this, spreading false information about the court being biased and targeting Africa.

Oby stood out as someone willing to jump in and speak up on behalf of victims, whether in Nigeria or around the world, countering the prevailing narratives in African media. “It is high time African governments and the AU [African Union] put themselves on the right side of history and support justice for victims, not abusive leaders,” she said.

Over the years, Oby was a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and she led the Nigerian Coalition for the International Criminal Court and the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center. Oby also helped guide the work of the global Coalition for the International Criminal Court through its steering committee.

Oby encouraged strategic activism. When al-Bashir turned up in Nigeria after the ICC issued warrants against him, Oby went to court to insist on his arrest – after which al-Bashir hightailed it out of the country. Activists in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa have taken up similar efforts, campaigning on the streets and in the courts for al-Bashir to be arrested when he arrives or threatens to arrive in their countries.

I looked to Oby for guidance, sound advice, and the passion needed to keep at it even when the landscape was challenging. Her efforts have made a difference. In the past year, some of the worst attacks on the ICC emanating from Africa have ebbed, and more than a dozen countries stepped forward to reaffirm their commitment to the ICC.

Nigeria – and Africa – lost a tremendous activist. Oby’s energy for the cause will remain in my heart as the work continues.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


From November 2015 until the start of a ceasefire in December 2016, Mozambique’s security forces and the armed group of the country’s largest opposition party, the Mozambican National Resistance, or Renamo, committed numerous abuses in Mozambique’s central provinces. This report documents enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, summary killings and destruction of private property allegedly committed by government forces, and political killings, attacks on public transport and looting of health clinics by alleged Renamo forces.

In the year since the ceasefire was declared, hostilities and conflict-related human rights abuses have mostly ceased. However, the government has not met its obligation under international human rights law to hold those responsible for serious abuses on both sides to account.

The report focuses on abuses in the provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia. Human Rights Watch documented seven cases of enforced disappearance—the government’s arrest of an individual but refusal to provide information on their whereabouts—and heard credible reports of many more cases. The military also arbitrarily detained those it suspected of belonging to or supporting Renamo or its armed group and beat suspects in custody. The houses and property of those arrested were at times burned or destroyed. A number of Renamo officials and activists were killed or nearly killed by unidentified assailants.

In a written response to questions from Human Rights Watch, the office of the president of Mozambique, Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, denied that government security forces had committed any abuses and rejected allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture and property destruction.

The wife, son, and mother of Manuel Fungulane, with his photograph (man on left). Fungulane disappeared on August 13, 2016, after being detained by government soldiers. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Renamo’s armed group, which is commanded by party leader Afonso Dhlakama, was implicated in the kidnappings and killings of political figures working with the government or its ruling party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), or people Renamo apparently suspected of being government informants. Armed Renamo fighters also looted at least five medical facilities, threatening or denying access to health care for thousands of people in remote areas. Renamo’s armed group also committed ambushes and sniper attacks against public transport, mainly on the N1 road in Manica and Sofala provinces. According to the government, 43 people died and 143 were injured in such attacks from November 2015 to December 2016.

Party leader Dhlakama has admitted to giving orders to attack public buses that he claimed were secretly transporting soldiers. The allegations of political assassinations, however, Renamo has rejected as ruling party “propaganda.” In response to Human Rights Watch questions, Renamo provided a list with 306 names of party members who had allegedly been attacked or killed by government forces between March 2015 and December 2016.

The Mozambican government has failed to adequately investigate the alleged abuses documented in this report. Victims and witnesses of government abuses told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had never contacted them, nor did they otherwise learn of investigations. The office of the president did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s question about the status of investigations.

Impunity for grave abuses, long prevalent in Mozambique, encourages future abuses. Among the incidents documented in this report, the still unsolved case in Gorongosa district from April 2016, in which villagers reported a mass grave and at least 15 bodies were found under a bridge, highlights not only a government failure to investigate, but also apparent obstruction of justice.  Local authorities acted slowly to collect the bodies and later announced that decomposition had made autopsies impossible. A parliamentary committee formed in May 2016 to examine the incident has yet to report its findings.

The government should meet its obligations under international human rights law and impartially and thoroughly investigate allegations of serious abuse, whether by government forces or Renamo, and bring those responsible to justice. The government should also establish a national database of missing persons with detailed information to help identify and locate those who have been arrested, forcibly disappeared or killed.

Mozambique’s international partners should press the government to investigate the human rights abuses allegedly committed by both sides since late 2015. 


To the Government of Mozambique

  • Conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into credible allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, and other serious abuses by government officials and their agents, including in cases in which the victims or their families do not file an official complaint. Appropriately prosecute those responsible, regardless of rank, according to international fair trial standards.
  • Issue clear orders that all members of the security forces, including commanders, will be held responsible for committing or ordering abuses, including as a matter of command responsibility.
  • Conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into credible allegations of abuses by Renamo members and their agents, and appropriately prosecute those responsible according to international fair trial standards.
  • Ensure that all individuals apprehended for criminal offenses are promptly brought before a judge within the legally defined periods, and that prosecutions meet international standards.
  • Promptly provide information about those in custody to their families, including their whereabouts, charges against them, if any, and allow detainees prompt access to counsel and their family members.
  • Publicly and unequivocally condemn arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and enforced disappearances, and make clear that government officials responsible will be appropriately disciplined or prosecuted.
  • Establish a national database of missing persons that includes information to help locate detainees and victims of enforced disappearances and killings, such as detailed information about the victim, known arrest and places of detention, and any investigations into the case.
  • Invite the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant United Nations special procedures—including the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment—to visit Mozambique to investigate and make recommendations for ensuring justice and accountability, as well for reform of the security forces to act independently and professionally.
  • Provide adequate and prompt compensation to the victims of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture or ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and unlawful killings by government officials or their agents.
  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.


To the Mozambican Parliament

  • Promptly publish the findings of the Parliamentary Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs and Human Rights investigation into the killings in Gorongosa district, Sofala province, uncovered in April 2016.
  • Hold public hearings with senior government officials on the government’s failure to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment by government officials.


To Renamo

  • Issue clear orders that all Renamo members and agents, including commanders, will be appropriately punished for committing or ordering abuses, including kidnappings, unlawful killings and attacks on public transport and medical facilities.
  • Ensure any disciplinary mechanisms provide basic due process, including hearings by an impartial adjudicator in which the accused can present a defense and has assistance of counsel.


To the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)

  • Press the government of Mozambique to credibly and impartially investigate all allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and enforced disappearances, by government security force members and their agents.
  • Call on the Mozambique authorities to implement the recommendations in this report.


To International Donors

  • Re-evaluate financial and other development assistance, including training and capacity-building, to ensure that institutions involved in human rights violations do not continue to receive support unless the Mozambican government takes concrete measures to end these violations and to hold perpetrators to account.
  • Provide training and other support, where the government has demonstrated genuine commitment to reform, to strengthen the capacity of Mozambican prosecutors and investigators.
  • Ensure that any assistance to Mozambique’s security forces promotes rather than undermines government compliance with international human rights obligations.
  • Support, where the government has demonstrated genuine commitment to reform, internal oversight and accountability mechanisms for security forces.
  • Publicly raise human rights concerns, including accountability issues, in political dialogue with the Mozambique government, and monitor the government’s compliance with international human rights standards.
  • Call on the Mozambique authorities to implement the recommendations in this report.


This report is based primarily on research conducted during three fact-finding missions to Mozambique in 2017: in April to Beira city and Gorongosa district in Sofala province; in June to Gorongosa and Chibabava districts in Sofala province and in Barue and Gondola districts in Manica province; and in November to the Nhamatanda district in Sofala province. Altogether, Human Rights Watch interviewed 71 people, including victims of abuses and their relatives, as well as witnesses to abuses that were committed by government security forces or the Renamo armed group. We also spoke with police officers, soldiers, politicians, activists and journalists. Interviews were conducted in Portuguese and Ndau, when necessary with an interpreter.

Some of the people interviewed requested anonymity because of security concerns. All instances where pseudonyms have been used are referenced in the footnotes. In some cases we have withheld additional identifying information to protect a person’s identity.

Human Rights Watch informed all interviewees of the nature and purpose of our research, and our intentions to publish a report with the information gathered. We informed each potential interviewee that they were under no obligation to speak with us, that Human Rights Watch does not provide humanitarian or legal services, and that they could stop speaking with us or decline to answer any question with no adverse consequences. We obtained oral consent for each interview and interviewees did not receive any compensation for speaking with Human Rights Watch.

On August 17, 2017, Human Rights Watch submitted a list of questions about alleged human rights violations by security forces to Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who serves as commander-in-chief of the defense and security forces (see Appendix I). The president’s office responded on October 9 to some of the questions (see Appendix II), and those answers are included where relevant in the report.

On September 12, 2016, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Mozambique’s attorney general, with copies to the ministers of justice and interior, asking about the status of investigations into politically motivated killings (see Appendix III). As of December 19, 2017, none of these offices had replied.

On August 17, 2017, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, head of the party and its armed group, with a list of questions about alleged human rights abuses committed by Renamo’s armed group (see Appendix IV). Renamo responded on August 30, 2017 (see Appendix V), and its answers, where relevant, are included in the report.

I. Background

In 1977, two years after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, a bloody civil war erupted between government forces controlled by the ruling party, the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Liberation Front, or Frelimo) and the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (Mozambique National Resistance, or Renamo). An estimated one million people died during the 16-year-long war, and five million were displaced.[1] Both sides committed numerous war crimes against civilians, including mass killings, sexual violence, torture, and use of child soldiers. In November 1990, during direct talks between the two warring sides, the Mozambican parliament adopted a new constitution that established a multi-party system with regular elections and guaranteed respect for fundamental rights and liberties.

The two parties signed a peace agreement to end the civil war on October 4, 1992. Nine days later, parliament ratified an amnesty law for both government forces and Renamo rebels that protected members of these forces unconditionally from prosecution for war crimes and other atrocities during the war. Due to the amnesty law, no one has been held accountable for war crimes.

As part of the peace deal, the government allowed Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama to keep a 300-man private armed guard. Successive failures to demobilize other Renamo fighters or integrate them into the national army encouraged many of these men to join Dhlakama’s private guard informally. Today Renamo is believed to have an armed force of about 700 men.[2]  Other credible sources suggest that the force could be as high as 2,500.[3]

Mozambique held its first multi-party elections in October 1994. The ruling Frelimo party maintained control, winning both the presidential election with 53 percent of the vote, and parliamentary elections with 44 percent. Renamo received 34 percent in the presidential election, and 38 percent in the parliamentary vote.[4]

Renamo and Dhlakama came close to winning Mozambique’s second election in December 1999, but they have rejected the results of every Mozambican election ever since, accusing the ruling party of rigging the vote. In November 2000, during a Renamo protest against the 1999 election results, police opened fire on reportedly violent protesters. Forty-one people died, including six police officers, and 200 were injured. Over 200 Renamo supporters were arrested.[5]

Tension between the Frelimo-led government and Renamo flared again in April 2013, when the Renamo armed group raided a police station in Muxungue, killing at least four officers.[6] Armed clashes ensued in the provinces of Inhambane, Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia, and the government raided Renamo’s former military bases in Sofala province.[7] The government has never reported official casualty numbers from these clashes.

On September 5, 2014, the Mozambican government and Renamo signed a new peace deal that called for the disarming of Renamo fighters and their integration into the national army and police.[8] The agreement collapsed within four months, after Renamo alleged that the government had failed to integrate its fighters. The government accused Renamo of refusing to provide a list of its fighters to be integrated.

In October 2014, Frelimo won parliamentary elections and Filipe Jacinto Nyusi became president. Renamo won 89 seats in the 250-seat national assembly but challenged the results and vowed to govern six of the country’s 11 provinces in which, based on its own count, it claimed to have received the most votes.

In February 2015, the government announced that it would start an operation to disarm Renamo’s armed group by force. Renamo resisted the operation, resulting in frequent violent clashes in the central provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia. In June 2015, the 23 foreign military observers in Mozambique, who had arrived in September 2014 to monitor the disarming and integration of Renamo forces, left the country.[9] Renamo demanded control over half of the senior positions in the armed forces as a precondition to provide the government with a list of its armed men. The government rejected this demand, leading to stalled talks between the two sides. An international mediation effort led by Mario Raffaelli, a representative of the European Union, started in July 2016. That December, following a publicly announced phone conversation with President Nyusi, Renamo leader Dhlakama announced a unilateral ceasefire.

In January 2017, President Nyusi dismissed the team of mediators and announced the creation of a multi-disciplinary team to plan the demobilization of RENAMO fighters, the integration of Renamo fighters into state security forces, and the decentralization of political power. The last point – allowing provincial governors to be elected rather than appointed by the president – was one of Renamo’s demands to end its attacks. On August 7, 2017, President Nyusi and Dhlakama met for the first time in the Gorongosa bush, in what many analysts considered an important step towards peace.[10] At the time of writing, the ceasefire was still in effect.


II. Violations by Government Security Forces  

Human Rights Watch documented a range of serious human rights violations committed by government security forces in the central provinces of Manica and Sofala between November 2015 and December 2016, when the latest ceasefire came into effect. These include enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment in detention and the destruction of property.

Such abuses violate Mozambique’s obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among other treaties.[11]

Human Rights Watch’s findings are consistent with reporting by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which reported in mid-2016 that government security forces were implicated in summary executions, looting, destruction of property, rape, and ill-treatment of prisoners.[12] OHCHR also said it had received information from “reliable sources” that at least 14 Renamo officials had been killed or abducted by unidentified individuals across the country in the first quarter of 2016. The Mozambican government has not publicly responded to OHCHR’s allegations.

The Mozambican human rights organization Liga dos Direitos Humanos (LDH) said that government forces abducted or summarily executed at least 83 people in the provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia between November 2015 and December 2016, but it did not provide details to allow corroboration of these claims.[13] Most of these people were opposition members whom the government apparently determined were helping Renamo fighters, LDH said. 

In October 2016, Renamo gave Human Rights Watch a list containing names of its members and officials who they allege were detained or killed between the October 2014 general election and October 2016, with details such as places and dates. The same list was published in the party’s newsletter, “A Bancada,” in which the party said that the people on the list had been killed by a “death squad” linked to the government.[14]

On August 30, 2017, Renamo provided Human Rights Watch with another detailed list containing 306 names of its members and officials who they assert had been attacked or killed by a “government death squad” between September 2015 and December 2016 in the provinces of Nampula, Zambezia, Tete, Manica, Sofala, Inhambane, as well as the capital, Maputo. The list includes names, dates, places and basic circumstances of each case. Human Rights Watch could not independently verify every case on the list, which included the cases of senior political figures covered in this report, who had apparently been killed for political reasons, as well as the apparent targeted killings of other Renamo officials that had been reported in the media.

 In August 2017, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Nyusi, who serves as commander-in-chief of the defense and security forces, listing various allegations of abuse and requesting an official response. The Office of the President replied on October 9, 2017, that the information received from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional and Religious Affairs did not lead them “to conclude that the alleged abuses of human rights have occurred” (see Appendix I).

Enforced Disappearances

Human Rights Watch documented seven cases of apparent enforced disappearance, all of them in Sofala province, and heard credible accounts of many more in the same province. Relatives and friends of those allegedly disappeared provided details of the cases and the families’ failed attempts to locate the person. They said that government officials had failed to provide them with information about the whereabouts of their relative, despite repeated requests.

Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.[15] Mozambique has an international legal obligation to take appropriate measures to investigate alleged enforced disappearances by officials or their agents and bring those responsible to justice.[16] 

Two women who lived in the Munhava neighborhood of Beira city, the capital of Sofala province, told Human Rights Watch that their husbands, José João Munera and Manuel João Munera, who are brothers, disappeared on April 16, 2016, after they reported themselves to the Gorongosa village police station. The men were summoned there, both women said, in relation to the detention of two other men, José and Tioto, who worked for Manuel. None of the four men have been seen or heard from since. The wife of José Munera said:

My husband’s brother came here to ask my husband to accompany him to Gorongosa where two of his workers had been detained by police. On Saturday, April 16, 2016, when my husband was off duty, they travelled to Gorongosa. At 4 p.m., they called to inform us that they had arrived at the police station…. At 6 p.m. I called him and the phone went unanswered.[17]

José Munera’s wife said that she and Manuel’s wife went to the police station in Beira on April 18 and the police officers there called the station in Gorongosa. The police received confirmation that José and Manuel had been there and that they had been taken to the army barracks, both women said. “To date, I don’t know where they went to after the barracks,” said José’s wife.

A photo of the brothers José João Munera and Manuel João Munera. The two men disappeared on April 16, 2016, after they reported to the Gorongosa village police station. 

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

Manuel’s wife said that her husband’s family went to Gorongosa to look for the two brothers but had no success. Residents there told the family that the police had also detained Manuel’s two workers.

When asked in April 2017 about the case, two police officers in Beira city, who spoke with Human Rights Watch separately, said they did not remember the case as it had happened “long ago.” In response to questions from Human Rights Watch, the office of President Nyusi said the government had no records of having arrested or detained the four men.

The mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango, said he had asked his staff about José João Munera, who had worked for the city’s department of waste collection, and confirmed that he had not come to work since April 2016. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Munera and his brother were detained due to their involvement with Renamo, the mayor said.[18] Manuel Munera’s wife said that her husband was not involved in politics, saying he was a businessman who bought corn in Gorongosa to sell in Beira.

In November 2017, a police officer in the Beira Investigative Police (PIC), who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said that at least four other cases of people who had disappeared in Gorongosa had been reported to the investigative police in Beira.[19] He declined to share details of those cases but acknowledged that the police had not opened any investigations, because, according to him, “the country was in war.”[20]

A police officer in the Gorongosa station, who likewise requested anonymity, said that army special forces managed all cases related to “the armed conflict.” He said the police had orders to hand all Renamo-linked detainees to the army. When asked to provide a contact in the army special forces, the officer said he did not have permission to provide that information. [21]  

In another case, a friend of Timoteo Bernardo, a 27-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, told Human Rights Watch that on February 16, 2016, army soldiers stopped Bernardo at a checkpoint in Mapombwe near Gorongosa. The soldiers asked for Bernardo’s identity card and then, without explanation, took him away in an armored vehicle. The friend said:

They took [Bernardo] inside the tent there at Mapombwe, tied him up and brought him back to the main road. When people started approaching to watch what was going on, they fired shots in the air to disperse us. Then they took my friend Timoteo away in an armored vehicle and left.

He said he had not seen or heard from him since that day.[22]

Bernardo’s friend also said that he knew of two other motorcycle taxi drivers who worked with Bernardo, who had also been detained on different occasions, allegedly because soldiers accused them of transporting food and money to Renamo fighters at a Renamo base near the Gorongosa village of Casa Banana. 

In another case, soldiers apparently detained Manuel Fungulane, 28, near the Mapombwe checkpoint in Gorongosa on August 13, 2016, and he has not been seen or heard from since. Fungulane’s wife and mother told Human Rights Watch that Fungulane was driving a female friend home on his motorcycle when the two were stopped and Fungulane was detained. The soldiers handcuffed Fungulane, put him in an army vehicle, and told the friend to inform the family that they had detained him for his connections with Renamo. The wife and mother said that Fungulane was just a trader with no political activity.

A photo of Manuel Fungulane (left), who was detained by soldiers near the Mapombwe checkpoint in Gorongosa on August 13, 2016 and has not been seen or heard from since. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

When Fungulane’s wife went to the police to look for her husband, they told her to look for him at the military base in Mapombwe. When she went there, she said, the guard at the base told her to go to the police station in Gorongosa village. The woman said that she and others searched in vain for several weeks until they finally gave up. “Since then, no one has found a body,” she said. “I am still waiting for my husband to come back home.”[23]

Celestino Dez, 30, a gasoline seller, disappeared on May 5, 2016, and the authorities have refused to provide his family with information. Dez’s brother said the military knew Dez because he used to trade gasoline with them. Witnesses told him that soldiers had detained Dez in the village of Canda, beat him and took him away in a Ford Ranger like the ones commonly used by government security forces. He said that he initially thought his brother had been detained over disagreements about the gasoline business, but he soon realized that it was something “more serious.” He said:

Traces of [what appeared to be] his blood could be seen on the ground when I arrived at the scene within hours of his detention. People who witnessed the case told me that the men beat my brother, tied him up, and put him in the car. They then left at high speed with the emergency lights on.[24]

Dez’s brother said he reported the case to the police and they collected evidence at the scene but have subsequently provided the family with no information. He went to the nearby military base but personnel there said they knew nothing about the case.

“Since that day, I have never seen my brother again,” he said.

Asked about the reasons that could have led to Celestino’s detention, his brother said the military might have thought he was part of Renamo because they had previously accused him of supplying Renamo fighters with gasoline.

In its response to Human Rights Watch’s letter, The Office of the President did not say whether any members of state security forces had been held accountable for involvement in enforced disappearances.

Arbitrary Detentions and Abuse in Detention

From November 2015 through December 2016, state security forces arbitrarily detained people suspected of having ties with Renamo’s armed group, and tortured or otherwise ill-treated some of them in detention. The government has yet to release any information about Renamo members or supporters it has arrested or legally charged, despite police spokesmen claiming on various occasions that they had arrested armed men.[25] 

The Office of the President, in its response to Human Rights Watch’s letter, provided no information about arrests and prosecutions of suspected Renamo fighters or members.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four men who alleged that they were wrongfully detained and tortured by state security forces between May and June 2016. Interviewed separately, each said that security forces accused them of supplying food to Renamo armed men in the Gorongosa mountains, which they denied.

One of the men, a pastor of a church in Tanzaronta, Gorongosa, said that soldiers driving an armored vehicle and a pickup truck arrived at his church at about 2 p.m. on May 12, 2016, and took him into custody. He explained:

They approached me and one of them beat me on the head with a gun. Then they ordered me to get in the car trunk and took me to the military base. There they questioned me until 4 or 5 p.m. …  They would beat me while forcing me to say that I was a Renamo fighter.[26]

The pastor said he saw eight other men detained on the base, one of whom he recognized as a motorcycle taxi driver in Tanzaronta.

He said a military commander named Bambo arrived at the base and, recognizing him as a pastor, ordered the soldiers to let him go. On his way out, the pastor said he asked a guard what had happened to the eight other detained men. The guard told him they had been killed. The pastor said he has not seen the motorcycle taxi driver or the other seven men since that day.

Residents of Gorongosa village told Human Rights Watch that during most of 2016 government soldiers and traffic police set up checkpoints where they stopped public transport and ordered passengers to produce their identity cards. The soldiers prohibited some people from proceeding because their names appeared on a list. Three residents said they had witnessed soldiers remove people from cars, beat them in front of other passengers and take them handcuffed in tents near the checkpoint.

Tito, 33, said that a group of about 20 soldiers arrived at his house in Nyaranga on the evening of June 22, 2016, saying his name was on a list of people to arrest because of their collaboration with Renamo. Tito said that, after verifying his identity, the soldiers put him in the back of their pickup truck, where there were four other men lying down with their hands bound. The soldiers took the men to a forest near Canda, where they told them to leave the pickup truck, kneel, clasp their hands behind their heads, and close their eyes, Tito said. Soldiers then fired shots into the air.

“Then this soldier came toward me and started shouting: ‘You are Renamo!’” Tito recalled. “I said, ‘I’m not.’ He then said: ‘Run! I want to see how far you can go.’ I stood up and I ran. From that day, I never returned to my house.”[27] One year after the incident, Tito said he was still living in hiding for fear of harassment or arrest.

In August 2016, local media reported that residents had found six bodies inside a burned car in a forest in Cheringoma, Sofala province.[28] The authorities said the victims had been attacked and killed by Renamo on August 12.  However, two men who claimed to have escaped the attack gave a different account to the local television station STV from a hospital where they were receiving treatment.[29] The men accused the security forces of abducting eight men and killing six of them execution-style. One of the men told STV:

When we arrived at the river, officers ordered us to stop and produce our documents. After checking the documents, they told us we had to wait because a district commander wanted to talk to us. Later, they told us to go to their car and they took the keys of our car. They drove us for a long distance before we stopped, and the soldiers started talking to each other. Moments later, they told us to leave the car one by one…and they started shooting at each of us… I jumped out of the car and ran. They fired at me…and the bullet struck my waist.[30]

The other man, who identified himself as a Bangladeshi national, told STV:

They took us to the bush. There they told the Mozambicans to leave the car and shot at us one by one. When they were done with the Mozambicans, one of the soldiers grabbed me by the jacket… I managed to push him away and I ran… They fired at me. But I continued to run through the bush.[31]

Government security forces also have arrested, but not formally charged, Renamo officials whom they accused of helping Renamo fighters. Human Rights Watch spoke with five men who identified themselves as Renamo officials in Gorongosa and said they were living in undisclosed places due to fear of arrest and mistreatment. Residents of Gorongosa village said that soldiers started searching for people linked to Renamo after armed men from the party raided the village on February 16, 2016. According to media reports, at least two people died and five others were injured during clashes between security forces and Renamo fighters that day.[32]

The burned house and car of Pinto, a Renamo member in Gorongosa village. Neighbors said they saw soldiers set the house and car on fire on February 17, 2016. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Pinto, 43, said that soldiers came looking for him at the school where he was taking classes on the night after the February 16 attack. He explained how he eluded arrest but later found his house on fire:

[The soldiers] said: “We are looking for Pinto from Renamo.” I was lucky because my teacher and colleagues did not denounce me, even though they know me as a Renamo official. As soon as they left, I too left the school and ran to my house. When I arrived at home, they had set everything on fire. I called a friend who told me that soldiers were rounding up all Renamo people at their houses. That night, I and three other Renamo officials left the village and went into hiding.[33]

Two residents living near Pinto’s abandoned burned house and two burned cars in Gorongosa village told Human Rights Watch that they had seen soldiers set the house and cars on fire.

Another Renamo official, Carlos, said that he managed to run away after a soldier warned him via text message on February 21, 2016 that soldiers would be raiding his house:

I was in the house when I got a text from a soldier who happens to be my friend. In the text he told me that they were hiding behind the trees waiting to raid the house. I looked out from a window and I saw one of them preparing to throw something similar to a grenade into my home. I ran through the back door and I did not return until today.[34]

As of April 2017, when Human Rights Watch interviewed the five Renamo officials, they were all still in hiding, despite the ceasefire between the government and Renamo. They said that they feared undercover police in Gorongosa and did not want to reveal where they were staying.

Destruction of Property

During research in April, June, and November 2017, Human Rights Watch saw at least 32 destroyed or burned houses in Sofala province in the villages of Nhampoca, Mukodza, Inhaminga, Nhamapadza, Casa Banana, Vunduzi, Nhamandzi, and Gorongosa, that residents said had been targeted by state security forces. The residents said they had seen soldiers arrive in armored vehicles and trucks, set houses on fire and destroy crops.

In Vunduzi village, Gorongosa district, government forces burned and destroyed at least six houses in June 2016, apparently because they suspected them of belonging to Renamo supporters. Three witnesses said that for two consecutive days, soldiers arrived in Ford Rangers and armored vehicles, used aggressive language and, without warning, set fire to the houses, destroying the residences and barns and killing domestic animals. Residents who tried to remove their possessions from the houses were forced away.

A woman and her son in front of their house with bullet holes in Mukodza village, Gorongosa. They said soldiers arrived in army vehicles and fired without warning at the house in June 2016, forcing them to flee through a window. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

A 68-year-old resident of Vunduzi who witnessed the arson said that he found soldiers destroying his property when he returned from his farm:

They started accusing me of helping to hide Renamo men in my house. I denied that… Then one of the soldiers lit a match and threw it into my house… I begged them to let me remove my belongings. They refused.[35]

Human Rights Watch visited the man’s compound and saw a burned house and the burned remains of what appeared to have been a barn. The man said he asked the soldiers why they were destroying his belongings and they responded: “Orders from the commander.” [36]

A 62-year-old man in Vunduzi said that soldiers stole his belongings before setting his house on fire. In his compound, Human Rights Watch saw remains of what appeared to have been straw houses. He said:

[The soldiers] entered the house and took my radio and cell phone. One soldier took two of my chickens before setting fire to everything. He was not even ashamed…. He took the chickens before getting in his car and driving away.[37]

Residents of Mukodza village said that soldiers fired their weapons at homes. A 54-year-old woman explained what she saw:

I was inside the house with my 16-year-old son when they arrived. We had heard about what happened in other houses the day before, so we decided to hide. They fired their guns at our house. My son managed to jump out of the window and helped me to do the same…. We ran to hide in the plantations. When we returned home, everything had gone with the fire.[38]

Human Rights Watch heard credible reports that government forces also burned homes in the Manica province villages of Nhamatema, Honde, Chiula and Maguti. In June 2017, at a camp for internally displaced people in Vanduzi town, Manica province, Human Rights Watch interviewed two dozen people who said that government soldiers had burned down their houses between March and December 2016.[39]

III. Abuses by Renamo

Human Rights Watch documented cases of Renamo armed men committing serious human rights abuses between November 2015 and December 2016, including kidnappings and killings of political figures, attacks on public transport, and the looting of health clinics in remote areas. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that these armed men sometimes wore dark green uniforms similar to those used by the Renamo leader’s private guard. They carried AK-47 assault rifles and often announced themselves as Renamofighters. Some of the abuses documented resemble those reported on by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who alleged in mid-2016 that Renamo had targeted people it perceived to be associated with the ruling party Frelimo, or to be cooperating with security forces, as well as attacking buses on roads with snipers.[40]

Political Killings

Since October 2015, Renamo armed men have been implicated in killings of people connected or believed to be connected to Frelimo. In October 2016, Frelimo gave Human Rights Watch the names of 15 of its members who were allegedly killed, six who were allegedly beaten, and six who were allegedly kidnapped in the provinces of Manica, Sofala, Inhambane and Nampula between February 2015 and September 2016, along with the dates and locations of the alleged incidents.

Frelimo said that Renamo was responsible for the crimes but provided no information to support the claim. Human Rights Watch investigated six of the cases, including three of the alleged killings, and found that these victims were apparently killed or attacked because Renamo suspected them of providing information to government security forces.

On September 2, 2016, alleged Renamo gunmen abducted and killed the regulo (traditional chief) of Nhampoca, Joaquim Chirangano, and another man, the head of Tica administrative post, Abilio Jorge. Three men who witnessed the abductions said that local officials from Nhamatanda district had called a meeting with residents of Nhampoca village to discuss compensations for people who had lost property during army incursions. At the meeting, Chirangano urged residents not to abandon the village despite the nearby clashes between government forces and Renamo. Witnesses said that during the meeting armed men who identified themselves as Renamo fighters seized Chirangano and Jorge. Residents later found the men’s gunshot-ridden bodies nearby.

One of the men who attended the meeting said:

One of the [Renamo] men was there among us. We thought he was one of the villagers. Suddenly, he stood up and pulled an AK-47 from a bag… and ordered the meeting to stop. Then four other men emerged from the bush and took the regulo [Chirangano] and local administrator with them. We later found the bodies of the regulo and the administrator in the bush.[41]

Another man who witnessed the abduction said the alleged Renamo fighters gave the villagers a flag they said they had removed from Chiringano’s house and told them to give it to local authorities with a message that Renamo had taken Chiringano and Jorge. “We recognized some of them,” the man said. “We know the Renamo people.”[42]

Two other men said that they joined local residents about three hours after the meeting to help carry the bodies of Chirangano and Jorge, which had been found in a nearby forest. One of the men, José, said:

When we arrived at the place where the bodies had been dumped, the bodies were still fresh… They had gunshots in their bodies and the head of regulo had been cut from the back to the front with an object…a machete, I think. We tied their bodies onto our bicycles and brought them to the local clinic.[43]

José said police officers never came to the village to investigate the killings.

The wife and daughter of the regulo (traditional chief) of Muxungue, Makotori José Mafussi, show a photo of Mafussi (seated) and two relatives. Apparent Renamo fighters killed Mafussi at his home on July 21, 2016. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

The regulo of Muxungue, Makotori José Mafussi, was killed on July 21, 2016. One of his daughters said that her father had received threats after he was accused of helping government forces to identify Renamo activists in the regions of Muxungue and Chibabava. “That day he was killed, he met a Renamo member named [name withheld] in the market,” she said. “When he came home, he told us that the man had warned him that he would be the next one to die.[44]

Mafussi’s daughter described the killing of her father in the evening by the man she assumed her father had earlier identified:

He arrived in our compound and started walking fast towards my father…. I shouted at him: “Who are you?” He told me to move away…. Then I turned to my father to alert him about this guy… But it was too late because he was already close to my father. He then shot my father in the head. [45]

When the police arrived at the house they found a handwritten letter on the floor, in which the assailants explained why they had killed Mafussi. The letter said that Mafussi had been killed because of his collaboration with government security forces.

On the night of June 2, 2016, in Honde, Barue district, armed men in dark green uniforms who identified themselves as Renamo fighters killed two men whom they accused of being informants for the authorities and security forces. Two witnesses said the killings came two days after government forces had ambushed Renamo fighters in the area. The daughter-in-law of one of the victims, Fungai Faniel, who was a Frelimo member, said that the men knocked on the family’s door and called her father-in-law by name. When Faniel opened the door, the men forced him out of the house, beat him severely, and left him to die. She said:

It was late at night when they arrived. We were sleeping when we heard male voices calling dad’s name. I went and checked through a hole and I saw four men. They did not look like the Fademo soldiers and they did not have a car... but they had uniforms: dark clothes.[46] When dad opened the door, they pulled him and started beating him with guns on his head. Then one of them said: leave him…he has learned his lesson… and they left. That’s when we left our hideouts and tried to save dad… but he was already dead.[47]

Another man said that armed men arrived at his house that night in Honde, looking for him because they believed he was a government informant. Since he was not at home, they kidnapped and then killed his father. He said:

For about two weeks they kept calling me on my phone to warn me that if I did not show up they would kill my father. The elders advised me to leave the village…. That’s when I went to the refugee camp in Vanduzi [about 70 kilometers away]. Then one day my family called me to say that they had found my father’s body in the Pungue River. Because I was in fear, I did not go back to the funeral.[48]

Renamo denied killing any government officials or Frelimo members, and accused Frelimo of blaming Renamo for its own crimes (see Appendix V).

Attacks on Public Transport

Renamo armed men carried out several attacks against public transport, mainly on the N1 road that links the north and south of Mozambique, between the Save and Zambeze rivers in Manica and Sofala provinces. The Mozambican police said they recorded 19 attacks in February 2016 alone.[49] The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Renamo sniper attacks on public transport travelling along the N1 had killed a number of travelers.[50]

Local media and police reported on February 13, 2016, for example, that Renamo carried out at least three attacks on vehicles traveling along the N1, injuring at least three people in Muxungue, Chibabava district, Sofala province, and another four people between Nhamapaza and Caia, in Maringué district, also in Sofala province.[51] In March 2016, Renamo armed men reportedly carried out at least four attacks against buses traveling between the provinces of Manica, Sofala and Zambézia. The authorities said at least three people were killed and several others were injured in the attacks.[52] A 27-year-old woman who was injured during an attack in Honde, Chibabava, on March 5, 2016, told Human Rights Watch that armed men ambushed the bus and started firing shots at it. As people tried to hide behind their seats, the driver lost control and the bus crashed into a tree. She said:

They came suddenly from nowhere in the bush and started firing at the bus. We were all in panic…. We knew the route was dangerous because we had heard about other attacks. But we always hoped that they would fight against soldiers.[53]

Renamo armed men also reportedly attacked at least three inter-provincial passenger buses on May 22 and on June 29, 2016 in Machanga, according to media reports.[54]

In March 2016, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama confirmed a March 5, 2016 Renamo attack on a bus from the private company Nagi, in Honde, Manica province, saying the bus was transporting soldiers from Chimoio to Tete. “One or other members of the population” could have died in Honde where the incident took place, as well as 39 soldiers, Dhlakama said. [55]

Attacks on Health Facilities

Renamo armed men raided at least five hospitals or medical clinics in July and August 2016 to loot medicine and supplies, restricting access to health care for thousands of people in remote areas of Zambezia, Tete and Niassa provinces. Two witnesses said that at about 3 a.m. on July 30, 2016, Renamo armed men entered the village of Mopeia in Zambezia province.[56]

A bullet hole in the window of Morrumbala District Hospital after a raid by Renamo gunmen on August 12, 2016.  

© 2016 Nova Radio Paz – Quelimane

A doctor who worked at the clinic told Human Rights Watch that the armed men stole vaccines, syringes and antibiotics. “[Armed men] caused panic and people ran for their lives,” he said. “It took a few days before residents could come back to the clinic.”[57] The doctor, who also works at the Mopeia district hospital situated about 8 kilometers away from the village, said that the armed men burned patients’ medical records before proceeding to the hospital.

A nurse at the Mopeia Hospital described the armed men’s attack on the hospital:

They were about 15, but not all of them had weapons. … They entered the ward where patients were sleeping, told everyone to move away…and took everything … bed sheets, mosquito nets… Nobody was hurt. They did not touch us.[58]

The next day, Mozambican media reported that about a dozen armed Renamo men raided the village of Maiaca, district of Maúa, in the northern Niassa province. During the raid, they attacked the local medical clinic and a police station. Similar incidents took place in Tome, southern Inhambane province, and in Tsangano district, in the western province of Tete.[59]

On August 5, 2016, Renamo leader Dhlakama gave a telephone interview to Mozambican television station STV in which he confirmed that he had given orders to attack some areas of Zambezia province, but he did not specify the targets or mention medical facilities.[60] In responding to Human Rights Watch questions, Renamo generally denied attacking civilians but did not address the specific cases mentioned by Human Rights Watch.


IV. Government’s Failure to Investigate Abuses

The Mozambican authorities, notably the Criminal Investigation Police, have failed to investigate serious human rights violations allegedly committed by government security forces, including politically motivated killings, enforced disappearances and destruction of property. Even for crimes that the authorities blame on Renamo fighters, such as killings and attacks on public transportation, the authorities have apparently failed to make any arrests.

Governments have a duty to impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute serious violations of human rights. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the ICCPR, has stated that governments not only have a duty to protect their citizens from such violations, but also to investigate violations when they occur and to bring the perpetrators to justice.[61] International human rights law also enshrines the right to an effective remedy, including compensation for abuses.[62] 

Regarding potentially unlawful deaths, in 2016 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights revised the guidelines for human rights investigations. Known as the Minnesota Protocol, the guidelines provide that these investigations must be prompt, effective and thorough, as well as independent, impartial and transparent.[63]

In a well-publicized case from 2016, the security forces appear to have actively blocked independent media and others from investigating an alleged mass grave and 15 unidentified bodies that were found in April of that year in an area between Manica and Sofala provinces.

Attorney General Beatriz Buchili, along with the Ministries of Justice and Interior, have not responded to Human Rights Watch’s September 2016 letter inquiring about the steps her office had taken to prosecute high-profile cases (see Appendix III).

Alleged Mass Grave in Gorongosa

On April 27, 2016, residents of Gorongosa district reported to various media that they had discovered a mass grave with 120 bodies between Canda and Macossa.[64] They told journalists that they discovered the bodies inside a former gold mine after noticing the stench of decomposing bodies. The media outlets that published the story were unable to verify the existence of the mass grave, reportedly because security forces blocked access to the former mine.[65]

On April 29, the police claimed that investigators sent to the area were unable to find a mass grave.[66] The next day, however, journalists from Deutsche Welle and the Portuguese news agency LUSA visited the area and photographed about 15 bodies scattered in the bush under a bridge, near where local residents had alleged the mass grave to be. Some of the victims appeared to have been recently killed, while other bodies showed more advanced signs of decomposition, according to images seen by Human Rights Watch and the journalists who took the photographs.[67] Due to the presence of security forces, the journalists were unable to reach the gravesite identified by local residents. One of the journalists who visited the bridge told Human Rights Watch that armed men on motorcycles chased him and a colleague out of the area as they tried to reach the old mine.[68]

On May 1, a police spokesman told Human Rights Watch that the government had not found any bodies in the area, though he was unable to give details about the investigation, including when the team visited the area, where they looked and who was on the team.[69] When alerted that the media had published photos of about 15 bodies, he asked for time to verify the story but never responded to repeated follow-up phone calls.

On May 5, local television station STV visited the location where the bodies were found, and aired footage that showed 13 bodies still lying under the bridge.[70] In response, the governor of Manica province announced that, by that point, decomposition had made it impossible to identify the bodies, and that the victims would be collected and buried.[71] Despite this, journalists from Al Jazeera visited the site on May 25 and found 15 bodies still there.[72]

Facing criticism from human rights groups and the media, the prosecutors’ office in Manica announced it would transfer the bodies to the hospital in Beira and investigate the case. On May 26, the Parliamentary Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs and Human Rights launched an investigation into the claims of a possible mass grave. The commission included members from the ruling Frelimo party and the opposition Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM). Renamo boycotted the investigation on the grounds that it would not be impartial.

On June 1, the head of the commission, Frelimo member of parliament Edson Macuacua, announced that the commission had concluded its work after speaking with local regulos (traditional chiefs), community leaders and local residents. The commission found no mass grave in Gorongosa district but did confirm the existence of 15 bodies at the location near the bridge, Macuacua said.[73] In footage aired by state television, a community leader who met the commission members denied the existence of a mass grave and the 15 bodies.

On June 6, the only opposition member of parliament to take part in the commission’s visit to Gorongosa, MDM’s Silvia Cheia, distanced herself from the commission’s findings. She accused Macuacua of “jumping to conclusions” and “intimidating” local residents during interviews.[74]

Ten months later, in April 2017, the office of the state prosecutor in Manica province said it would soon announce the results of autopsies that were conducted on 11 of the 15 bodies that had been transferred to Beira Hospital. A hospital official said the autopsies were concluded in March 2017 and the results were sent to the state prosecutor in Manica.[75]

In April 2017, two residents led a Human Rights Watch researcher to a road near Canda, which they assert led to the mine that contained the alleged mass grave. Security forces in army uniforms at a checkpoint on the road prevented the researcher from proceeding, allegedly for “security reasons.”

As of November 2017, the authorities had not released any information about the autopsy results or the investigation into the alleged mass grave.

Apparent Politically Motivated Crimes

The Mozambican authorities have failed to investigate at least 10 high-profile apparently politically motivated killings or attempted killings across Mozambique since March 2015.

  • On March 3, 2015, constitutional lawyer Gilles Cistac was shot dead outside a cafe in the center of Maputo. Witnesses said he was entering his car outside the building when four unidentified men from another car opened fired, killing Cistac and his driver. Cistac’s family and friends say he had been receiving threats after he publicly defended the disputed constitutionality of Renamo’s petition to create autonomous provincial authorities.[76]
  • On January 16, 2016, the secretary general of Renamo, Manuel Bissopo, was shot and severely wounded as he travelled in his car in the center of Beira city, in Sofala province. His bodyguard died. The incident took place hours after a news conference in which Bissopo had accused state security forces of abducting and killing members of his party.[77]
  • On February 4, 2016, senior Renamo official Filipe Jonasse Machatine was found dead with eight gunshot wounds in Gondola, Manica province, two days after he had been kidnapped by unidentified men.[78]
  • On March 7, 2016, a senior Renamo official in Inhambane province, Aly Jane, was found dead after he had disappeared four days earlier. His body, found near the Nhanombe River between Maxixe and Homoíne districts, bore signs of violence.[79]
  • On April 9, 2016, Renamo member of the National Council for Defence and Security, José Manuel, was shot dead outside Beira international airport after he had arrived from Maputo. It reportedly took the police about 10 hours to arrive at the scene.[80]
  • On June 22, 2016, the body of a senior Frelimo official in Manica province, José Fernando Nguiraze, was found by neighbors inside his house with gunshot wounds. He lived alone because his family had been evacuated for security reasons. Police said four unidentified Renamo members had committed the crime, but they provided no evidence to support the claim.[81]
  • On September 2, 2016, the administrator of Tica, in Nhamatanda district, Sofala province, Jorge Abílio, was killed by armed men whom the police identified as Renamo fighters. Abilio was ambushed after attending a community meeting in which he tried to convince local residents not to abandon the region despite frequent clashes between the Mozambican army and Renamo fighters.[82]
  • On September 22, 2016, senior Renamo official in Moatize district and member of the local Tete provincial assembly, Armindo Nkutche, died after being shot six times on the street, just hours after speaking at the assembly’s closing session.[83]
  • On October 8, 2016, Jeremias Pondeca¸ a Renamo member of a team preparing a meeting between President Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, was shot dead during his morning jog on Maputo’s main beach, Costa do Sol. His family only learned of his killing a day later, after contacting the authorities to report his disappearance and being told that an unidentified body with bullet wounds had been taken to the morgue. Preliminary police investigations suggest that four men who had been following Pondeca by car approached the victim and fired two shots at his head and one at his abdomen before fleeing.[84]
  • On October 4, 2017, the mayor of Nampula and member of the opposition MDM, Mahamudo Amurane, was shot and killed near his house by unidentified men.[85]

To date Attorney General Beatriz Buchili has not responded to a September letter from Human Rights Watch enquiring about the steps her office had taken to investigate or prosecute these cases (see Appendix III). The Mozambican Criminal Investigation Police, which is the state body responsible for conducting criminal investigations, had not concluded investigations into any of these cases nor had they been able to identify any suspects.


[1] Africa Watch, “Conspicuous Destruction: War, Famine and the Reform Process in Mozambique.” New York: Human Rights Watch, July 1992.

[2] The Zimbabwean, “Dhlakama returns to the bush,” October 10, 2012,, (accessed November 2, 2017).

[3] Andre Thomashausen, “Changing of guard in Maputo,” April 5, 2015, (accessed December 1, 2017).

[4] Mozambique Election Commission, “Resultados Eleitorais,” (accessed December 1, 2017).

[5] Reuters, “Moz mourns as protest death toll reaches 41,” November 13, 2000, (accessed November 10, 2017).

[6] Mozambique News Agency (AIM), “Renamo gunmen attack police station,” December 4, 2013, (accessed November 2, 2017).

[7] News24, “Mozambique forces take 2nd Renamo base,” October 29, 2013, (accessed November 2, 2017).

[8] Al Jazeera, “Mozambique government and Renamo sign truce,” September 5, 2014, (accessed November 2, 2017).

[10] News24, “Mozambique president, opposition chief hold first meet since 2015,” August 7, 2017,

(accessed November 1, 2017).


[11] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976. Mozambique ratified the covenant in 1993; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987. Mozambique ratified the convention in 1999; African [Banjul] Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, adopted June 27, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982), entered into force Oct. 21, 1986. Mozambique ratified the charter in 1989.

[12]United Nations News Center, “Mozambique: UN reports 'worrying' information about human rights violations,” April 29, 2016, (accessed July 23, 2017).

[13] LDH statement, “Pronunciamento Publico da LDH face à situação politico-militar, economico-socia e dos Direiros Humanos de Moçambique,” May 10, 2016.

[14] A Bancada, 2nd Edition, October 2016.

[15] International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, G.A. res. 61/177, U.N. Doc. A/RES/61/177 (2006), entered into force Dec. 23, 2010, article 2. Mozambique signed the convention in 2008 but has yet to ratify it.

[16] Ibid., article 3.

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with wife of José João Munera, Beira, April 7, 2017.

[18] Human Rights Watch Interview with Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira, Beira, April 8, 2017.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with police officer [name withheld], Beira, November 8, 2017.

[20] Human Rights Watch interview with police officer, November 8, 2017.

[21] Human Rights Watch phone interview with police officer [name withheld], Gorongosa, November 20, 2017.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Domingos Antonio, Gorongosa village, April 5, 2017.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with wife of Manuel Fungulane, Gorongosa village, June 16, 2017.

[24] Interview with brother of Celestino Dez, Gorongosa village, June 16, 2017.

[25] Folha de Maputo, “Policia afirma que detencoes da Renamo tem motivacoes criminais,” March 9, 2017, (accessed November 22, 2017).

[26] Human Rights Interview with pastor, Tanzaronta, Gorongosa, April 6, 2016.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with Tito Dias, Gorongosa, April 5, 2016.

[28] Radio Mozambique, “6 corpos carbonizados pela Renamo em Chringoma, Sofala,” August 14, 2016, (accessed December 11, 2017).

[29] STV, “Seis pessoas mortas em Caia,” August 14, 2016, (accessed September 10, 2017).

[30] Interview with Mozambican man to television STV, August 14, 2016, (accessed September 10, 2017).

[31] Interview with Bangladeshi man to television STV, August 14, 2016, (accessed September 10, 2017).

[32] Folha de Maputo, “Ataque da Renamo a unidade das FDS resulta em dois mortos,” February 17, 2016, (accessed November 4, 2017).

[33] Human Rights Watch Interview with Pinto, Gorongosa, April 6, 2017.

[34] Human Rights Watch Interview with Carlos, Gorongosa, April 6, 2017.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Vunduzi, June 13, 2017.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Vunduzi, June 13, 2017.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Vunduzi, June 13, 2017.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Mukodza, June 14, 2017.

[39] Human Rights Watch interviews in the former Vanduzi internal displacment camp, Vanduzi, June 15, 2017.

[40] United Nations News Centre, “Mozambique: UN reports 'worrying' information about human rights violations,” April 29, 2016, (accessed July 23, 2017).

[41] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jorge, Nhamatanda, June 22, 2017

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Andre, Nhampoca, November 7, 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Jose, Nhampoca, November 7, 2017.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with daughter of regulo of Muxungue, June 16, 2017.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with daughter of regulo of Muxungue, June 16, 2017.

[46] Fademo is the local expression for FADM (Mozambican Armed Defence Forces).

[47] Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Honde, Vanduzi, June 15,2016.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview [name withheld], Honde, Vanduzi, June 15, 2016.

[49] VOA, “Policia diz que ataques da Renamo provocaram 3 mortos,” February 25, 2016, (accessed November 3, 2017).

[50] United Nations News Centre, “Mozambique: UN reports 'worrying' information about human rights violations,” April 29, 2016, (accessed November 3, 2017.

[51] Jornal Noticias, “Tres feridos em ataques da Renamo em Sofala,” February 13, 2016, (accessed November 10, 2017).

[52] RTP, “Tres mortos em ataques da Renamo na semana passada,” March 15, 2016, (accessed November 3, 2017).

[53] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, September 12, 2017.

[54] Television of Mozambique, TVM, “Renamo attacks 3 buses,” May 22, 2016, (accessed September 13, 2017).

[55] Deutsche Welle, ”Até fim de março governaremos seis províncias moçambicanas", reafirma Dhlakama à DW África,” March 14, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[56] O Observador, “Renamo volta a atacar no centro de Moçambique,” August 1, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[57] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with medical doctor in Mopeia, August 21, 2017. See also,, August 24, 2016.

[58] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with nurse, August 21, 2016.

[59] VOA, “Ataque atribuído à Renamo contra registo civil e posto médico na província de Tete”, July 6, 2016, (accessed on November 22, 2017).

[60] STV interview with Afonso Dhlakama, August 4, 2016,, (accessed on July 23, 2017).

[61] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 31 on Article 2 of the Covenant: The Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/74/CRP.4/Rev.6 (2004), para. 15. According to the committee, when investigations uncover violations of human rights: “States Parties must ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. As with failure to investigate, failure to bring to justice perpetrators of such violations could in and of itself give rise to a separate breach of the Covenant. These obligations arise notably in respect of those violations recognized as criminal under either domestic or international law, such as torture and similar cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (article 7), [and] summary and arbitrary killing (article 6) … Indeed, the problem of impunity for these violations, a matter of sustained concern by the Committee, may well be an important contributing element in the recurrence of the violations.” Ibid., para. 18.

[62] ICCPR, art. 2(3).

[63] UN Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (the Minnesota Protocol), (accessed December 10, 2017).

[65] A Verdade, “Corpos espalhados perto de vala comum, vigiada pelas FDS, na Gorongosa,” May 1, 2016, (accessed December 11, 2017).

[66] O Publico, “Governo de Moçambique desmente vala comum,” April 30, 2016, (accessed July 24, 2017).

[67] Human Right Watch interview with Lusa editor, Henrique Botequilha, May 23, 2016.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Arcenio Sebastiao, Deutsche Welle reporter, May 3, 2016.

[69] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with police spokesman Inacio Dina, May 1, 2016.

[70] “STV confirma existencia de corpos,” May 5, 2016, (accessed September 10, 2017).

[71] Two forensic experts told Human Rights Watch that body identification is possible even after advanced stages of decomposition.

[72] Footage by Al Jazeera showed the bodies covered with sand, under a bridge in Makossa. See also, “Bodies found in mass graves in Mozambique,” May 25, 2016, (accessed September 10, 2016).

[73] Club of Mozambique, “No Mass Graves – says parliamentary commission”, June 1, 2016, (accessed September 16, 2017).

[74] RFI, “MDM critica comissão parlamentar,” June 7, 2016, (accessed November 3, 2017).

[75] RTP, “Justiça promote divulgar autopsias, um ano depois...”, April 19, 2017, (accessed November 2, 2017).

[76] BBC News, “Mozambique lawyer Giles Cistac assassinated in Maputo,” March 3, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[77] ENCA News, “Mozambique's Renamo leader shot and wounded,” January 21, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[78] Jornal de Noticias, “Dirigente da oposição raptado em Moçambique foi encontrado morto,” February 5, 2016, (accessed December 3, 2017).

[79] Verdade, “Membro do partido Renamo encontrado morto em Inhambane,” March 8, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[80] Club of Mozambique, “Senior Renamo member murdered in drive-by shooting Saturday night,” April 11, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[81] Jornal Noticias, “Secretarios da Frelimo mortos por homens aramados” July 5, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[82] All Africa, “Mozambique: Renamo Murders Officials in Sofala,” September 3, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[83] VOA, “Dirigente da Renamo assassinado em Moatize,” September 22, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017).

[84] News 24, “Senior Mozambique opposition member shot dead,” October 9, 2016, (accessed December 5, 2017). Also see, Human Rights Watch press release, “Mozambique: Prominent Opposition Leader Killed,” October 11, 2016,

[85] News24, “Mozambique mayor shot dead on Day of Peace,” October 5, 2017, (accessed December 5, 2017.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The central provinces of Sofala and Manica saw serious abuses by state security forces and Renamo’s armed group from November 2015 until the start of a ceasefire in December 2016. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A court sketch shows Dutch citizen and former Ethiopian government official Eshetu Alemu attending his trial for war crimes in The Hague, The Netherlands on October 31, 2017. 

© 2017 Getty Image
The many victims of the brutal communist military dictatorship that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991, known as the Derg, had a rare victory this week. On December 15, former Ethiopian government official Eshetu Alemu was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life in prison by a Dutch court for his role in ordering the executions of 75 people, including children under 18, in the 1970s.

Over 150,000 students, academics, and political opponents were killed during the Derg’s “Red Terror” campaign. Countless others were disappeared, arrested, or tortured. Senior Derg officials, including Chairman Mengistu Haile Mariam, were convicted of genocide in absentia in 2006 after a 12-year trial in Ethiopia’s courts. They were sentenced to life in prison. Eshetu, the Derg’s senior representative in Gojam province at the time of his crimes, had been sentenced to death in absentia by an earlier Ethiopian court. In 1991 when the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) overthrew the dictatorship, Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe where he was afforded protection by then-president Robert Mugabe. Eshetu fled to the Netherlands.

Eshetu’s conviction should send a powerful message that officials can and will be held to account for atrocities, and that the passage of time is no guarantee of impunity. This message is especially important in Ethiopia, where the TPLF, who has been in power since the Derg’s overthrow, has also committed serious abuses with impunity. These include its military’s murder, rape, and torture of Anuak civilians in Gambella in 2003 and 2004, and war crimes and crimes against humanity  in the Somali Region  in 2007.  Additionally, a brutal crackdown by government security forces against protesters beginning in 2015 left over a thousand dead. The government has not permitted independent investigations into any of these events and Ethiopia has strongly resisted calls for an international investigation. Justice and accountability for Ethiopia’s many victims in the last 50 years, has been all too rare.

For families of Ethiopia’s  many victims of torture, killings, and other serious abuses, Eshetu’s conviction should give them hope that those responsible will one day be held to account. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am



On August 30, 2017, Hassina Begum, a 20-year-old ethnic Rohingya woman, was among the few survivors of a massacre of unspeakable brutality. Just days after a deadly attack by Rohingya militants against Burmese security forces, hundreds of Burmese soldiers in uniform, along with ethnic Rakhine villagers armed with machetes and wooden sticks, attacked the village of Tula Toli, officially known as Min Gyi, in Maungdaw Township in Burma’s Rakhine State, also known as Arakan State.

The advancing soldiers trapped several hundred unarmed Rohingya Muslim villagers, including Hassina, on the large bank of the river, which surrounds Tula Toli on three sides. As they approached, some fired at the crowd, others toward people trying to flee. While some Rohingya managed to escape, swimming across the fast-moving river or dashing to the surrounding hills, many terrified villagers could not run away or swim. Families with young children had no chance to flee.

Interviewed in a refugee camp in neighboring Bangladesh, Hassina and other survivors described to Human Rights Watch how the soldiers had then separated the women and children from the men, confined the women to the shallow water of the river, and systematically murdered the men over the course of several hours. The soldiers and Rakhine Buddhist villagers dug several deep pits on the river beach. They dumped the men’s bodies inside the pits, poured on gasoline, and set them on fire.

The soldiers then turned to the women and children. Soldiers took some women and children away as soon as the men were killed, and others while the soldiers were still digging the pits and disposing of the bodies. They began killing some of the children at the beach, tossing young children into the river.

Hassina tried hiding her 1-year-old daughter Sohaifa under her shawl. A soldier noticed and tore the infant from her, throwing the girl alive on a fire. Five soldiers took Hassina, her mother-in-law, Fatima, 35, and her sister-in-law, Asma, 18, together with Fatima’s three young sons, ages 7, 10, and 14, from the water to a nearby bamboo house in the village. Hassina says that on arrival a group of ethnic Rakhine men at the house beat the three boys to death. The soldiers proceeded to sexually assault Hassina and the women inside the house. When Fatima resisted, the soldiers stabbed her to death before beating the others unconscious, and knifing Hassina.

As they left, the soldiers locked the unconscious and dead women inside the house and set it on fire. Hassina and Asma regained consciousness when their clothes caught on fire, and fought their way out through the burning bamboo walls. They were the sole survivors from that house. When interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the two women showed their wounds, which included burns and machete cuts.

What happened to Hassina and her relatives that day was repeated many times in Tula Toli. Shawfika, 24, said that six soldiers took her and four other women together with three children from the river to another nearby house. They beat to death the children, ages 5, 6, and 10, on the steps to the house. The soldiers took the women inside and raped, beat, and shot them, then left them locked inside the burning house. Shawfika said:

When we entered, they pushed us inside. We were five women and six soldiers. They took off our clothes and tried to touch us. We tried to escape, but they caught us and they raped all of us. Then they beat us, and when we were beaten down, they shot us. The shot missed me, and I pretended to be dead, and then I passed out. Then they left and put the house on fire.

I woke up and realized I was in a pool of sticky blood. I tried to wake the others up but they didn’t move. Then I broke through the [bamboo] wall and escaped.… When I escaped from the house, all the houses in the area were on fire. I could hear women screaming from some of the other houses. They could not escape from the fires.

In addition to Hassina, Asma, and Shawfika, four other female survivors, including a 16-year-old girl, recounted to Human Rights Watch how they too had been taken from the water at Tula Toli, witnessed children being murdered in front of their mothers, and been raped, beaten, stabbed, and left for dead in a burning house. Three of the four were the sole survivors from the group of women and children taken to a particular house.


Ethnic Rohingya, a largely Muslim minority, have faced decades of discrimination, repression, and violence in Burma. Most have been denied Burmese citizenship for generations, an injustice enshrined in Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law, forming one of the largest stateless populations in the world. The government of Burma denies that most Rohingya are Burmese, contending that they are migrants from Bangladesh, even though many Rohingya families have lived in Burma for generations, if not centuries.

Large-scale ethnically motivated attacks against the Rohingya have occurred repeatedly since Burmese independence. Serious attacks in 2012 and 2016 were some of the most deadly in more than 20 years, and can now be seen as precursors to the even more violent and organized attacks in 2017.

In early June 2012, sectarian clashes erupted between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in four townships in Rakhine State. When violence resumed in October that year, it engulfed nine more townships and became a coordinated campaign to forcibly relocate or remove the state’s Muslims. The October 2012 attacks that targeted both Rohingya and Kaman Muslim communities were organized, incited, and committed by local Rakhine political party operatives, the Buddhist monkhood, and ordinary Rakhine villagers, at times directly supported by state security forces. Rohingya men, women, and children were killed, some buried in mass graves, and their villages and neighborhoods were razed. While the state security forces in some instances intervened to prevent violence and protect fleeing Muslims, more frequently they stood aside during attacks or directly supported the assailants, committing killings and other abuses.

A Human Rights Watch investigation into the 2012 violence concluded that the crimes against the Rohingya and Kaman Muslim communities amounted to crimes against humanity carried out as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.[1]

On October 9, 2016, militants later identified as belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked three police outposts in northern Rakhine State. Burmese security forces launched brutal months-long “clearance operations” in response. Human Rights Watch documented extrajudicial killings, the rape of women and girls, and the burning of at least 1,500 structures by the Burmese security forces.[2] The violence caused massive displacement, with more than 87,000 fleeing to Bangladesh and tens of thousands more internally displaced. A report issued by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on February 3, 2017, concluded that the attacks against the Rohingya “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity.[3]

In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution establishing an independent international Fact-Finding Mission with a mandate to investigate allegations of recent human rights abuses in Burma, especially in Rakhine State. To date, the Burmese government has not granted the Fact-Finding Mission access to Burma.

Approximately 120,000 Rohingya displaced in the 2012 and 2016 attacks remain effectively trapped in internally displaced persons camps in central Rakhine State, with severe restrictions on freedom of movement and access to health care, education, and livelihoods. Even those not in camps have faced isolation from services and often dire humanitarian conditions.[4]

The attacks on Rohingya in 2017, including the killings at Tula Toli, were launched following a series of coordinated attacks by ARSA militants on August 25, which targeted some 30 police posts and an army camp in northern Rakhine State. According to the government, militants killed 11 security force personnel during those attacks.

In the days immediately following the ARSA attacks, the Burmese military, supported by Border Police and armed Rakhine villagers, carried out a series of large-scale attacks against numerous Rohingya villages in the guise of counterinsurgency operations. The Burmese military summarily executed villagers, carried out mass rape, and engaged in mass arson, burning down at least 354 villages as documented by Human Rights Watch satellite imagery. At time of writing, the military’s actions had forced more than 645,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. A report released on December 12 by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) found that at least 6,700 Rohingya died due to violence in the month since military operations started on August 25, based on mortality surveys conducted in refugee camps in Bangladesh.[5]

On November 13, 2017, a Burmese army investigation team issued a report asserting that security forces had committed no abuses during the Rakhine State operations, and that there were “no deaths of innocent people.”[6] Prior investigations conducted by a government-appointed national commission and army investigators into the late 2016-early 2017 violence had similarly rejected allegations of serious abuse, finding cause only to punish three soldiers for minor incidents.[7]

While there have been numerous reports of abuses committed by ARSA militants, Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently verify those accounts, in part because the Burmese government continues to deny independent human rights investigators and journalists access to northern Rakhine State, where most victims would be located.


Tula Toli was a massacre that left an entire village destroyed. Satellite imagery reviewed by Human Rights Watch confirms that the Rohingya villages of Tula Toli and Dual Toli—with a total of 746 buildings—were completely destroyed by arson, while the neighboring non-Rohingya villages remain intact. The horrors of Tula Toli recall the very worst massacres in past decades elsewhere in the world.



Establishing the precise death toll at Tula Toli is difficult. Witnesses and survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 villagers had gathered at the beach when the attack began. While some swam across the river to safety or managed to survive the attack, witnesses said they believe most others had been killed. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they were the sole survivors from their families and said that many other families were wiped out entirely. Based on witness and survivor accounts, Human Rights Watch estimates that Burmese security forces killed several hundred Rohingya villagers in Tula Toli on August 30. In an apparent effort to destroy evidence of the killings, soldiers and Rakhine villagers dug pits in which witnesses say they burned the bodies. Many of the women and children died while locked in village houses that were burned to the ground.

We cannot determine how many women were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted during the attack on Tula Toli. Human Rights Watch interviewed nine women and girls who said soldiers raped or sexually assaulted them, after the soldiers forced them to leave the beach area and took them to nearby houses. All of these survivors said they also saw other women and girls being raped by soldiers, as well as other groups of women being taken to other houses.

The women survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch had their own young children or those of others taken from them and killed in front of them. Soldiers, and in one case Rakhine villagers, killed children, including infants and toddlers, using machetes, spades, and wooden sticks, and in several cases threw children into fires or the river.

The conduct of the security forces at Tula Toli shows strong evidence of military planning, including uniformed soldiers surrounding the village, the separation of the men from the women and children, the systematic killing of the men, and the transfer of the women and children from the river to nearby houses where they were often raped and killed, the bamboo houses burned down.

The massacre at Tula Toli supports the findings of Human Rights Watch and others that the Burmese military since August 25 has committed forced deportation, murder, rape, and persecution against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State that amount to crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity are defined under international law as specified criminal acts “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Burmese military attacks on the Rohingya, such as at Tula Toli, have been both widespread and systematic. Statements by Burmese military and government officials have indicated an intent to attack this population.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has described the military campaign in northern Rakhine State as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”[8] A report issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on October 11, 2017, based on interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, concluded that the attacks demonstrated a deliberate strategy to force Rohingya out of Burma and prevent their return.[9]

The mandate of the UN Fact-Finding Mission created prior to the eruption of the August 25 violence has been extended until September 2018, but Burma has thus far refused to grant the mission access to Burma.[10] Establishing the human cost of the killing at Tula Toli should be a priority for the Fact-Finding Mission and other investigations into the recent violence.

Since the start of Burmese military operations, humanitarian aid has been largely denied to populations in northern Rakhine State. While tens of thousands of other ethnic minorities were evacuated by the government, the Rohingya have suffered from serious deprivations. In Bangladesh, the massive influx of almost exclusively Rohingya refugees has strained an already difficult humanitarian situation in Cox’s Bazar, near the border with Burma. While delivery of vital aid and services in the refugee camps is improving, most refugees live in abysmal conditions with limited access to basic services, including health care, water, sanitation, and education.



To the Burmese Government

  • Immediately cease the campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, issue clear orders to security forces to stop all violence, and commit to protect all those in its territory without discrimination.
  • Provide safe and unhindered humanitarian access for United Nations agencies and international and national humanitarian organizations to all affected populations in Rakhine State, including to camps for previously displaced Rohingya in central Rakhine State.
  • Allow full and unimpeded access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission to investigate the events in northern Rakhine State, and cooperate fully with its investigations.
  • Take steps to implement the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Commission’s recommendations in accordance with international human rights standards, including immediately amending the 1982 Citizenship Act to eliminate provisions that have a discriminatory impact on determining citizenship for reasons of ethnicity, race, religion, or other protected status.

To the United Nations Security Council and Concerned Member States

  • Impose targeted sanctions on Burmese military leaders and key military-owned enterprises, including travel bans and restrictions on access to financial institutions, and impose a comprehensive military embargo on Burma.
  • Call for those responsible for grave abuses to be held accountable for their crimes.
  • Press Burmese authorities to cooperate with the UN Fact-Finding Mission and grant unfettered access to its staff to Burma, including Rakhine State.
  • Send a clear message that it stands ready to take additional steps to ensure justice including through the International Criminal Court (ICC), and urge member states to pursue other mechanisms that might provide justice for recent abuses.



This report is based largely on in-depth Human Rights Watch interviews with 18 Rohingya survivors and witnesses to events in Tula Toli who had fled to Bangladesh, which were conducted during a three-week research trip to the Cox’s Bazar border area of Bangladesh in late September and early October 2017. It also draws on a broad investigation by Human Rights Watch researchers into the Rakhine State operations following August 25, including numerous visits to the Bangladesh refugee camps in September, October, and November 2017, and interviews with over 200 Rohingya refugees.

All survivors and witnesses were interviewed separately, in different parts of the massive Kutupalong camp housing newly arrived refugees. Interviews were conducted in the Rohingya language, with the assistance of an English-Rohingya interpreter. Each witness interviewed for this report gave oral consent for their testimony to be included in the report. Human Rights Watch is withholding names of some witnesses and using pseudonyms where indicated for their security.

The Burmese authorities are currently preventing nongovernmental human rights researchers, United Nations investigators, and other independent monitors from accessing the affected areas of northern Rakhine State and carrying out on-the-ground investigations.

Human Rights Watch conducted satellite imagery analysis to corroborate the eyewitness testimony that the villages of Tula Toli and Dual Toli were completely burned. Human Rights Watch also reviewed open source information relating to the events at Tula Toli, including international and local media accounts and Burmese government statements.

This report builds on decades of Human Rights Watch research on the discrimination, statelessness, and violence faced by the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.


I. Killings in Tula Toli

Prior to its destruction, Tula Toli village comprised approximately 375 structures, most of which were homes, bordered on the north, east, and south by a river.[11] It is located in Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine State, about 15 kilometers from the border with Bangladesh. The estimated 4,300 ethnic Rohingya villagers living there were mostly farmers,[12] growing rice and chilies along the river.[13] Wet Kyein, an ethnic Rakhine village with a population estimated at 350 people, abuts the village to the south. A river divides Tula Toli and another Rohingya village known locally as Dual Toli, which is located on the eastern side of the river. Prior to its destruction, Dual Toli had approximately 370 structures spread along the banks of the river.[14] Local names are used in this report for clarity.

In the early morning of August 25, 2017, Rohingya militants claiming allegiance to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) carried out coordinated attacks on some 30 police posts and one army base in northern Rakhine State.

Government accounts suggest that several security incidents attributed to ARSA militants took place in the vicinity of Tula Toli starting on August 25. The government reported that a soldier was lightly injured at 11:05 a.m. on August 25 near Wet Kyein when he set off a trip-wire that detonated a landmine.[15] On August 28, government sources reported that 30 homes in Wet Kyein were burned by “50 extremist Bengali terrorists”[16]—a reference to ARSA militants—although subsequent Human Rights Watch satellite analysis showed that Wet Kyein was untouched by arson.

On the morning of August 28, Burmese security forces headed toward the hamlet of Dual Toli, located across the river from Tula Toli. According to Hamid Musaem, a 29-year-old day laborer from Dual Toli, a village leader asked about 100 young Rohingya men from the village to gather at the entrance of the village to try and persuade the army not to attack them.[17] The Rohingya men were unarmed, aside from a few bamboo poles some had brought.[18]

Musaem said that as the soldiers approached they immediately began firing on the men, fatally shooting Mohammed Salim, 23, in the back as he ran away.[19] The panicked villagers fled the village after the shooting, crossing the river by boat and by swimming to Tula Toli, which they thought would be safe.[20] Many other Rohingya from the area had sought shelter in Tula Toli, as they had assumed it was safer and were reassured by the ethnic Rakhine ukhata (chairman) of the cluster of villages, Aung Ko Sing, who had told the villagers that they would not be attacked by the army.[21] Witnesses said that he told the villagers they should gather the next day at the beach next to the river at the village’s edge. Shawfika, 24, said that Aung Ko Sing had told the village leaders on the evening of August 29 to tell everyone to go to the beach for their own safety. Shawfika said:

The ukhata said we are all like brothers and sisters, and we should gather in that place, and that “nothing will happen to you.” … Aung Ko Sing didn’t make a public announcement to everyone, but the evening before, he personally called all of the prominent people of the village and told them to gather at the beach. He called them to a meeting and they decided to gather at the beach if there was an attack.[22]

On the morning of August 30, Burmese security forces returned to the area, accompanied by armed Rakhine villagers from the area. Khotija, a 42-year-old resident of Tula Toli, said that on August 29, a military helicopter had landed in a nearby Rakhine village, and that the helicopter returned with the security forces on August 30.[23] In an interview with CNN, another survivor from Tula Toli, Omar Ali, said that he had witnessed the landing of the helicopter and the distribution of weapons and uniforms to the Rakhine villagers from the helicopter.[24]

At about 8 a.m., Burmese security forces and armed Rakhine villagers approached Tula Toli from three different directions and began to burn homes on the outskirts of the village. As the terrified villagers gathered at the beach, Burmese security forces and armed Rakhine villagers quickly surrounded them and began shooting into the crowds, killing many. Some panicked villagers decided to swim across the fast-moving river to seek safety on the opposite bank in Dual Toli. Many were shot while attempting the crossing, while others drowned. For the families with small children and members who could not swim, escape was impossible, and they became trapped on the beach. Over the course of the day, the security forces and armed men systematically gunned down hundreds of men, women, and children on the beach.

Following the initial assault, soldiers and armed Rakhine villagers surrounded the Rohingya families on the beach and began to separate the women and children from the men. Witnesses estimated that about 400 women and children were held under guard nearby in the shallow water.

Rajuma Begum, 20, was cooking breakfast at home when she noticed a large number of Burmese soldiers accompanied by Rakhine villagers approaching the village from the north. The soldiers were firing guns and explosives in the direction of the village. She immediately ran to the beach with her family. “The military came to the beach and there was lots of shooting,” she said. As the soldiers approached the beach, her husband, Mohammed Rafiq, 24, was shot and wounded, but managed to swim across the river and survive. Her brother Musali, 10, said farewell to her before trying to get away, but approaching soldiers shot him dead.[25] Rajuma said:

We were put in a female group on the beach, and they took us to a low area where there was water, and we were made to sit in the water up to our chests. The men were first shot, and then attacked with long wooden sticks, and some were killed with knives and machetes. They killed the men for hours. Then they dug big holes, with the help of local [Rakhine]. There were about 200 to 250 [Rakhine] with the army, and they dug a big hole. They put all the bodies inside, and then used leaves and bamboo to start a fire. They also threw grenades on them, and then finally they threw sand on top of them.[26]

Shawfika (mentioned above) said she was at home on August 30 when, at about 8 a.m., soldiers and Rakhine villagers began setting fire to houses in her neighborhood. She and her family gathered some belongings and fled to the beach. They were soon surrounded by soldiers, who began killing the men around them. She said that when they arrived at the beach:

The military began surrounding us. They started shooting and killing the men. When we reached there, they were already shooting, and people were falling down. We sat down in a lower area, and in front of me my husband was killed. A soldier came very close to us and he shot my husband and father-in-law from close up. They were Jamal Hussein, 23, and Sultan, 60. He shot both of them in the chest with a single shot, and that is how they died.[27]

Shawfika said the killings of men on the beach continued for hours:

They shot many men all around us, and also brought some men they had captured in the village to the beach and killed them as well. After those killings, they took us women and children and put us in the water. First they searched me for valuables and took all my gold and money, and then we were made to go in the water.

There were still a lot of men alive, and also some men with us. First, they killed the men who were with us, and then they began killing the others.… We had 30 soldiers surrounding us, and maybe 150 soldiers and Rakhine were killing the men. They just kept catching men, making them kneel down and killing them. Then they put their bodies on a pile. First they shot them, and if they were still alive they were killed with machetes.

Then they dug three holes. I saw them digging the holes. They pulled the dead bodies and put them in the holes. It took them one-and-a-half hours to carry all the bodies.[28]

Rajuma Khatoum, 35, said the village chairman had told the villagers to go to the beach for their safety. When soldiers opened fire as they approached the crowd on the beach, she said she immediately realized the danger they were in. But because so many families had many young children with them, it made flight across the river nearly impossible:

People were gathered near the river, sitting down, because we had a lot of family members and infants, so we couldn’t take everyone across the river. Also, the village chairman told us to stay and not to move, and that we would make peace with the [Rakhine community].[29]

When soldiers reached the beach they opened fire. Rajuma said that when two of her sons, Jamal Hussein, 17, and Jamalullah, 7, tried to swim across the river, soldiers shot them dead in the water. Rajuma and her husband then hid behind a fence near the beach with their remaining two children. Rajuma described what she saw on the beach:

The soldiers separated the men from the women and the children. They put the women and children near the bank of the river, and they put the men in a different place on the beach. Some of the men were seated, others were trying to run away in fear. They were being slaughtered, killed with shovels and the army was also shooting them and killing them with sharp weapons [knives and machetes]. That was around noon.

They dug a big hole and then also used the natural holes in the beach [depressions in the beach caused by the river, visible in satellite imagery] to put bodies in, and then they burned them with gasoline. I saw them slide the bodies in.[30]

Rajuma and her husband escaped from their hiding place and swam to safety with their young daughter and surviving son.[31]

Hafez Mohammed Akram, 30, was on the beach when the soldiers began shooting at the crowds. His wife Tasmina, 19, urged him to swim across the river, afraid that the soldiers would kill adult men. After Hafez swam across the river, he watched as the soldiers fired into the terrified crowds until only piles of bodies remained on the beach. He said he saw 20 to 30 bodies of villagers floating in the river, shot while trying to escape.[32] He then watched the soldiers dig holes in the soft sand to put the bodies in before burning them with fuel.[33]

Mohammed Zakaria, 51, was on the beach when the soldiers first arrived. “Before, we thought that if the women and the men gather together at the beach, the soldiers wouldn’t kill us,” he said. “We thought we would be safe.” However, when the soldiers opened fire on the crowd as soon as they arrived, he realized that many would be killed, and swam across the river to save himself.[34] From a wooded graveyard across the river, he watched as the soldiers killed those on the beach:

The men were killed by bullets. They started with the strongest men, they killed those with bullets. Some of the old people, they killed with their machetes, and the children among them were stabbed with knives, hit by machetes, and beaten with wooden sticks.[35]

Hassina Begum, 20, said she was at the beach when the attack began. She said the people on the beach were surrounded by soldiers, who immediately began killing the men, while ordering the women and children to stand nearby in the water. Hassina saw the soldiers stab her 40-year-old father-in-law, Sabir, to death.[36]

Hassina said she saw Rakhine villagers dig holes in the sand, put the bodies inside, and cover them with dried bamboo sticks, leaves, and gasoline, before setting them on fire.[37]

“Fatima” (not her real name), 15, told Human Rights Watch she was among the women and girls who had been at the beach and separated from the men by soldiers. The women and girls, together with their children, were told to sit in the water in a shallow area, where they watched the soldiers kill the men:

In the morning, the army came [to the river bank]. Some [Rakhine villagers] were with them as well. They were nearly 200 in number. The women were taken to a swampy area. They gathered all the men to another area and killed them, and then covered their bodies with cloths.

The men were taken away. Some were sitting, others were standing. The soldiers killed them by shooting them, and they slaughtered them with machetes, wooden sticks, and stabbing them. The killings went on from when they arrived to the time of the Juhur prayer [approximately 2 p.m.]. They killed all the men.

After the men were killed, the [Rakhine villagers] with the army dug a big hole, and they put the bodies inside and covered them with leaves and cloths. They hadn’t burned the bodies yet [by the time I was taken away].[38]

Decimated Families

Khotija said she lost her entire family in the massacre. Her elderly father, Abu Shama, and husband, Nur Kobir, 50, died with the men on the beach. Her son, Sayed Alam, 18, was shot dead while he tried to swim across the river. Her infant daughter, Nur Kaida, 3 months old, was ripped from her arms and smashed to death by the soldiers. When soldiers took her away, she left behind four children on the beach, and later learned from other survivors that they too had been killed: her three daughters Homeira, 10, Shehana, 5, and Nur Hassina, 3; and her son Jahedu Rahman, 4.[39]

Mohammed Zakaria, whose experience is described above, said that soldiers killed 11 of his close relatives, including his father Mauwlawi Ahamad Hussein, 90, and his mother Aisha Khatoum, 73; his children Mohammed Salem, 21, Mohammed Asim, 19, Umar Faisal, 15, and Mohammed Yahiya, 12; his brother Mohammed Tayeb, 41, and his brother’s wife, Shaheda, 31; and his brother’s children Noem, 14, Mohammed Anas, 12, and Mohammed Isa, 4.[40]

“Abdulaziz” (not his real name), 9, who fled to Bangladesh with his younger brother “Zahid,” 6, said that they had been at the beach when the soldiers began shooting, and had swam to the other side of the river to escape. From a nearby hillside, they watched the soldiers executing the men on the beach, including their father Mufiz, 35.[41] They saw soldiers lead their mother, Rabu, 30, and their siblings Janatullah, 10, Shabiullah, 5, and Mumtaz, 3, to a nearby home and later saw the house on fire, and believe they were all killed inside.[42]

Relatives of “Ali” (not his real name) said that the 10-year-old had not spoken since witnessing the killing of his family members on the beach. Relatives said that 11 members of Ali’s family were killed, including his widowed mother Habiba Khatoum, 45; his sister Sura, 16; his stepbrother Sobiullah, 35, his wife Laila, 25, and their three children Arkanullah, 4, Suhail, 3, and Khala Putuni, 2; and his other stepbrother Soyodullah Amin, 32, his wife Senu Ara, 20, their daughter Minu Aktar, 4, and their infant Purminu Aktar.[43]

Rajuma Khatoum, whose experience is described above, said that 13 members of her family were killed on the beach: her sons Jamal Hussein, 17, and Jamalullah, 7; her mother-in-law Farida Khatoum, 60; her brother-in-law Kairul Amin, 25, his wife Adjada, 20, and their son Arfatullah, 1; and her brother-in-law Nurul Amin, 32, his wife Kashida, 30, and their five children Tasmeeen Ara, 10, Murtaza, 8, Arkanullah, 7, Hassanullah, 3, and a yet to be named newborn boy.[44]

Rajuma also provided the names of 11 killed family members of her cousin and neighbor Dilniwaz, whom she saw raped and murdered on the beach: Dilniwaz’s father Sabir Ahmed, 45, and mother Fatima Khatoum, 40; and her 9 siblings Duloni, 18, Minara, 17, Usman, 15, Ismail, 8, Ridwan, 7, Shakira Bibi, 5, Zaved Khan, 4, Jamila, 3, and a 4-month-old baby who had not yet been named.[45]

Hafez Mohammed Akram, whose case is also described above, said he lost 12 family members on the beach, including his mother Aisha, 50; his wife Tasmina, 19; his son Usman, 2; his sister Khadija, 40, her husband Mohammed Idriss, 45, and their son Jamalullah, 17, and daughter Fatima, 19; Fatima’s husband Sayed Karim, 25; and his nephews Mohammed Ridwan, 6, Mohammed Shawfiq, 8, and niece Shahida, as well as a 5-month-old niece whose name he did not remember.[46]

Rajuma Begum said that her father Kala Mia, 70, was among the men killed on the beach, as were three children of her brother Mohammed Yousuf: his sons Hubaib, 11, and Soaib, 7, and his daughter, Romida, 8. In addition, her mother Subi Khatoum, 50, and her son Mohammed Sadeq, 16 months, died in the house where she was sexually assaulted (a case detailed in the next section of this report), and she learned from other survivors that her two sisters Rukiah, 19, and Rumina, 15, as well as her sister-in-law Khalida, 25, and her sister-in-law’s son Radja Ali, 2, were killed by soldiers in a similar fashion in another house.[47]

Mohammed Ayas, 16, said he saved his life by swimming across the river when the shooting started. He was wounded while running toward the river, but two men helped him cross and make it to the other side. He witnessed the killing of his entire family: his mother Janu, 45; his brothers Mohammed Yunus, 19, and Mohammed Tufail, 10; and his sisters Rajija, 14, and Hassina, 11. “I saw them kill my mother and sisters,” he said. “They were hit with sticks and cut with machetes and killed. After this I saw them kill my brothers with machetes. It was a very inhuman thing.”[48]

Mohammed Suleiman, 43, said his wife, Rabeya, 40, and his daughters Romida, 21, and Hassina, 12, were killed at the beach that day, although he did not know how they had died.[49]

Zaheed Hossein, 35, said he lost 11 members of his family in the massacre: his father Fakir Ahmed, 65, and mother Ambia Khatoum, 63; his wife Nur Begum, 23; his son Mohammed Anous, 2, and daughter Faiza Bibi, 10 months; his three sisters Nur Ayesha Begum, 43, Fatima Khatoum, 28, and Sara Khatoum, 26; his brother’s son Mohammed Sadek, 7, and unnamed baby, 28 days; and his other brother’s son Choku Tara, 2.[50]

Mohammed Amin, 25, said that nine members of his family were killed that day: his mother Farida Khatum, 50; his wife Hassina Begum, 22; his daughters Faresa, 3, and a newborn baby; his sisters Tosmin Ara, 20, and Senoara, 12; his sister’s daughter Shahida, 18 months; his brother’s wife, Momtaj Begum, 26; and his brother’s son, Shu Shu, 5.[51]

Nur Mohammed, 19, said he had fled to the beach with his entire family, and that his parents had told him to swim across the river to escape when the killings began. But his family had many young children who could not swim, and his parents did not want to abandon them. He said he was the only survivor from his family, and that 12 members of his family died on the beach: his father Abdul Malik, 60, and mother Nur Jehan Begum, 50; his brother Hussan Ahmed, 35, Hussan Ahmed’s wife Nur Bahar, 25, and their yet unnamed newborn daughter; his brother Sultan Ahmed, 30, Sultan Ahmed’s wife Samjun Nahar, 28, and their sons Mohammed Shahed, 4, and Alum Shah, 3; his sister Rukiya Begum, 12; and his sister-in-law Fatima Khatum, 30, and her son Mohammed Farouk, 4.[52]


II. Mass Rape and Killing of Women and Children

Hundreds of women and children in Tula Toli, after being separated from the men, remained under armed guard in the river by the beach while Burmese security forces and armed Rakhine villagers summarily executed the men. Nine female survivors told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers then began ordering small groups of women and their children out of the water. The soldiers killed some of the children at the water’s edge by throwing them in the river or into nearby fires, or hacking them to death with machetes. But the soldiers took most of the children away with their mothers to empty houses in the village.

The survivors said they saw Burmese soldiers, sometimes assisted by armed Rakhine villagers, beat or knife children to death in front of their mothers. The women were then taken into houses.

Half of the women and girls Human Rights Watch spoke to reported being raped or sexually assaulted inside the houses, and nearly all said they saw other women and girls being raped.

The women all described how soldiers took them to the houses, sexually assaulting many of them, and then beat them or cut them with knives and machetes until they were dead or unconscious. The soldiers then left the houses, closed the doors with the women and children inside, and set the houses on fire. Most of the women interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had been left for dead inside burning houses said they were the only survivors from a particular house.

Rashida, 25, told Human Rights Watch that she was among hundreds of women who were forced to stand in the water by the beach with their children:

The women and their children were made to sit in the water. We women and children were more than 400 in the water. They took us away in groups of five women, five at a time, and there were more than 200 taken away by the time they took me. About half of the women and children remained in the water when they took me away. I don’t know what happened to them.

They brought five of us women to a room [in a house]. They tortured us with knives and rifle butts. I had my 28-day-old baby, Mohammed Eukhan, on my chest and when they hit me, the baby fell. They hit the baby, and later I found he was dead. They hit me in the neck and they cut my throat with a knife and then stabbed me in the stomach. The other four girls died in that room. They burned the room and they couldn’t escape.

When the fire started, I woke up and found my baby with his head swollen, and he was no more.[53]

Rashida’s mother Lalo Begum, 55, and her sister Rafika, 18, were still standing in the water when Rashida was taken away. She believes they were later killed in one of the houses, as they have not been heard from since that day.[54]

Rajuma Begum said that soldiers took her from the group of women standing in the water to a three-room bamboo house nearby, together with her mother-in-law and infant son. She said:

In our group, we were three women with children, one young girl, and an older woman. Between 7 and 10 soldiers took us to a room in a house. There were other women in other rooms in the house, as we could hear them. I could hear women and girls screaming from the other rooms.

She said they grabbed her 16-month-old toddler, Mohammed Sadeq:

They first took my child and threw him down on the ground. He was still alive then, and I had to watch as they slaughtered him. The children of the other two women were killed the same way, thrown to the ground and [killed with machetes]. They were both boys, about 5 and 7. A few minutes later, they took the bodies of the children and threw them on a fire outside.

Then the soldiers raped all three of us women. I was on my back [being raped] for an hour. It was four or five soldiers. When they were done, I was hit twice afterward [with a heavy wooden stick], on my head and my chin. They beat us all until we were half dead, and then they set the house on fire.

[When I regained consciousness,] I saw that one of the corners of the bamboo wall had a hole in it. I made it bigger by kicking it, and I escaped from the house. No one else came out of that house. They all burned to death inside the house.[55]

Shawfika described how six soldiers took her and four other women and their three children from the water to a bamboo house. They beat the children to death, then raped all five women, beat them, and set the house on fire:

The soldiers took eight of us. It was me, my mother Dolu, 60, my sister-in-law Majuma, 28, her daughter Janatana, 10, her son Mukhtar, 5, my aunt Mabija Khatum, in her 60s, my neighbor Fatima, 22, and her son Sayed Nur, 6. The kids were just walking with us and when we got near the house, the soldiers just started hitting them with their gun butts and wooden sticks. They beat them to death. Then they took the bodies and put them inside the house. They were killed just on the doorsteps.

The soldiers took us into the house. We were kept in the corridor of the house, but we could hear moaning and sounds from the other rooms. When we entered, they pushed us inside. We were five women and six soldiers. They took off our clothes and tried to touch us. We tried to escape, but they caught us and they raped all of us. Then they beat us, and when we were beaten down, they shot us. The shot missed me, and I pretended to be dead, and then I passed out.

The soldiers then left the house and set it on fire:

I woke up and realized I was in a pool of sticky blood. I tried to wake up the others but they didn’t move. Then I broke through the [bamboo] wall and escaped. I ran through the paddy fields and could see huge fires on the beach [where the bodies had been put in pits].…

When I escaped from the house, all the houses in the area were on fire. I could hear women screaming from some of the other houses. They could not escape from the fires.[56]

Hassina Begum was standing with other women in the marshy area by the river, clutching her 1-year-old daughter Sohaifa under her scarf. She said:

[The soldiers] were taking the children from their mothers, killing some of them and throwing them into the fire. So I tried to hide my daughter under my headscarf so no one could see her. I acted like I didn’t have any children with me.

While I was hiding my child, one of [the soldiers] saw, and asked me, “Where are you taking her?” He took my daughter from me and threw her alive into the fire.

What could I do? I was standing there and crying. But they forced us to leave, they took us away by force.… [The soldier who took my daughter] had a knife in his hand and a rifle over his shoulder.[57]

Hassina said that at about 2 p.m., the soldiers began taking groups of five to seven women from the river’s edge to nearby houses. She could hear other women and children screaming from burning houses where they had been locked inside:

Five soldiers took us to a house. There were other military [men] there to direct them where to go. They were leaving the dead bodies inside the empty houses. They locked down the places wherever they killed [women and children]. People were screaming from the houses they had put on fire. Mostly women and little children were screaming out loudly.

The soldiers left them inside the locked houses thinking they were dead, then set the houses on fire. People inside the houses would pretend to be dead, but when the military set the house on fire, they started to scream.[58]

Hassina said that five soldiers took her, her sister-in-law Asma, 18, her mother-in-law Fatima, 35, and her three brothers-in-law Sayedul Mostapa, 14, Shirajul Mostapa, 10, and Hassan Mostapha, 7, to a house. Once inside, a group of Rakhine men beat the three children to death with shovels. She said the soldiers then told the Rakhine men to leave the house. The soldiers attempted to rape the three women inside the house, stabbing Fatima to death when she resisted. After the sexual assault, they beat Hassina and Asma unconscious with wooden sticks. The two women regained consciousness to find the house burning around them and managed to escape. They were the only survivors.[59]

Rajuma Khatoum said she witnessed soldiers at the beach rape her 16-year-old cousin, Dilniwaz, who was her neighbor and who had been hiding with them before the soldiers discovered her:

[Dilniwaz] was raped by three soldiers. Two stood over her while the third one raped her. She was a beautiful 16-year-old girl. We were hiding together and then the soldiers discovered her and she ran toward the men. She was thrown to the ground, and they opened her [sarong] and the soldier got on top of her and raped her. All of her family had already been killed, and she was the only survivor. When the soldier was done, he stood over her and shot her in the chest.[60]

Mumtaz Begum, 30, said the soldiers had ordered her to sit in the water alongside hundreds of other women and children, while the soldiers killed their male relatives nearby. The soldiers then took her, her four children, and her mother, along with five other women and their children, to a nearby house:

We were taken in a group of seven women, but so many were taken before us. Three or four soldiers took us to a room. They had machetes, and when we entered, they hit my 7-year-old daughter on the head twice.

The beautiful girls were taken away to another room and raped.… Us older women, we were stripped naked and they hit us on our breasts and private parts. They just hit and hit, demanding our money and gold. All four of my children were with me, I was holding them. They smashed the baby first, then they killed the two boys, first hitting them with sticks and then with machetes. They asked for our money and gold and then suddenly started hitting us with wooden sticks and machetes.

I was unconscious, and when I woke the house was fully on fire. It was when the fire was already burning my legs and my body that I came to. I broke through the wall, and my daughter was already outside. I tried to go back to get the bodies of my children, but they were already on fire so we had to leave them.[61]

Mumtaz suffered horrific burns over most of her body, and her daughter suffered from a deep gash on her head.[62]

“Fatima” said that soldiers took her to a house with her mother Farida, in her 40s, and sister Senwara, 10. After the soldiers killed the men, they began taking the women to the houses:

About 200 women were taken away before us. Some of their children were thrown in the river. Those that could swim swam away, but others drowned.

About 10 soldiers took us away [to a house]. I was with my mother, my sister, and four other women, two of whom had children with them. It was light in the room where they took us. There were many dead bodies of women already there, and they were searching the bodies for valuables. If they found children alive, they shot them or beat them to death. When we first entered, we couldn’t even really enter the room because of the number of bodies already there, there were so many.

I was the first to enter the room. One of the soldiers had a big wooden stick, and he hit me on the head and knocked me semi-unconscious. Then they were hitting the children. They stripped us naked, searching for our valuables. It is all blurry, but I remember them beating my 10-year-old sister-in-law—they hit her in the head with a big stick. Her face was swelling up and she was just screaming loudly in pain. Then she was just breathing loudly, and then she was barely breathing. And then she died.

The house was already on fire when I woke up. When I first woke up, I saw another woman on fire. She tried to stand up, but she fell down again. Burning objects were falling on us from the roof. So I stood up and stepped over the bodies of the others, and broke the [bamboo] wall with my leg and escaped. The other woman burned to death inside. Only I managed to escape, no one else came out alive from the house.[63]

Fatima said she escaped the home about 7 p.m., initially hiding in the latrine next to the burning house. The soldiers were still inside the village. When the heat from the burning house made it impossible to remain, she fled to another latrine, spending the night there before escaping the next morning and slowly making her way to the Bangladesh border.[64] She showed Human Rights Watch extensive burns to her hands, arms, shoulders, feet, and lower legs, which she had suffered while trapped inside the burning house.

Khotija described how soldiers brought her to a house where they killed her daughter:

I was taken out of the water with five other women. I had my 3-month-old infant, Nur Kaida, on my chest. Two other women also had babies with them, 3 or 4 months old. Seven soldiers surrounded us and took us.

They pushed us into the room. When we entered the house, they pulled my daughter from me and threw her hard to the ground, and she died. They did the same with the other two infants. Then they stripped us naked and raped four of us. Then they began hitting the others with wooden sticks, beating them to death. I was not raped myself. They hit us on the head with the sticks and made us unconscious. [One] soldier had cut some of us with his machete. One girl was begging for water, and the soldier came and stabbed her to death.

Khotija said that when she regained consciousness, she saw the soldiers had left and locked the doors. She could tell that the soldiers were burning a nearby house because she could hear women screaming from inside. She and another woman who had regained consciousness managed to leave the house and escape.[65]

“Senzida” (not her real name), 16, said she saw a group of nine women and girls assaulted by soldiers on the beach:

They separated the women and made some of them sit in the water and others on the shore nearby. I saw the soldiers do some bad things to some of the girls. They took some girls away to the nearby trees and tore off their clothes and touched them everywhere. They did this on the beach to nine girls.

They made them lie down and they were stripped naked. Some of the soldiers were holding them down while others were raping them. Only one of the girls returned, the others were killed there and we could see their bodies. I was watching the girls being raped on one side, and the soldiers killing the men on the other side.[66]

Senzida said that six or seven soldiers then ordered her and four other women—her sister-in-law Sainu, 25, and three other female relatives, Romida Begum, 20, Sura Khatum, 18, and Chemon Khatum, 30—to come with them. The soldiers grabbed Sainu’s 2-year-old son from her arms and threw him into the river, where he drowned.[67] The soldiers took the five women to a nearby house:

They tore off our clothes. One man was holding me and another one raped me. When they were finished, they started to hit me. They took away all of our valuables [sewn into our clothes]. All five of us were raped. Then they beat us with rifle butts and big wooden sticks and I became unconscious.

I woke up naked. The house was on fire. I tried to wake up my sister-in-law, but they were all dead. So I ran out of the house. Most of the houses around me were burning. There was a lot of fire. I was burned on my back inside the house.[68]

For two days, Senzida hid at a nearby graveyard, still naked. She finally approached a house in a village close by and was given some clothing, then fled to Bangladesh. She said that four other members of her family, including her mother Amina Khatum, in her mid-30s, were killed at the beach.[69]



This report was researched and written by Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. It was reviewed and edited by Brad Adams, Asia director; Richard Weir, researcher in the Asia Division; Skye Wheeler, emergencies researcher in the Women’s Rights Division; Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director; and Shayna Bauchner, coordinator in the Asia Division. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, provided legal and program review.

Production assistance was provided by Michelle Lonnquist, associate in the Emergencies Division; Rebecca Rom-Frank, photo and publications coordinator; Jose Martinez, senior coordinator; and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank the victims and witnesses who shared their stories with us.



[1] Human Rights Watch, “All You Can Do Is Pray”: Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing Against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, April 2013, See also, “The Government Could Have Stopped This”: Sectarian Violence and Ensuing Abuses in Burma’s Arakan State, July 2012, Perilous Plight: Burma’s Rohingya Take To The Sea, May 2009, Although “ethnic cleansing” is not formally defined under international law, a United Nations Commission of Experts has defined the term as a “purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992), May 27, 1994.

[2] See “Burma: Rohingya Recount Killings, Rape, and Arson,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 21, 2016, “Burma: Security Forces Raped Rohingya Women, Girls,” February 6, 2017, “Burma: Military Burned Villages in Rakhine State,” December 13, 2016, burma-military-burned-villages-rakhine-state.

[3] UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report of OHCHR Mission to Bangladesh: Interviews with Rohingyas Fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016,” February 3, 2017, (accessed November 29, 2017).

[4] World Food Programme, “Food Security Assessment in the Northern Part of Rakhine State: Final Report,” July 2017, (accessed October 23, 2017).

[5] “Myanmar/Bangladesh: MSF Surveys Estimate That at Least 6,700 Rohingya Were Killed During the Attacks in Myanmar,” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), December 12, 2017, (accessed December 14, 2017).

[6] “Burma: Army Report Whitewashes Ethnic Cleansing,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 14, 2017,

[7] “Burma: National Commission Denies Atrocities,” Human Rights Watch news release, August 7, 2017, https://www.; “Burma: Army Investigation Denies Atrocities,” May 24, 2017,

[8] Stephanie Nebehay and Simon Lewis, “UN Brands Myanmar Violence a ‘Textbook’ Example of Ethnic Cleansing,” Reuters, September 11, 2017, (accessed November 29, 2017).

[9] UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Mission Report of OHCHR Rapid Response Mission to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, 13-24 September 2017,” October 11, 2017, (accessed November 29, 2017).

[10] UN Human Rights Council, Extension of the Mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, September 27, 2017, A/HRC/36/L.31/Rev.1, (accessed November 29, 2017).

[11] The village is identified in official government records as Min Gyi.

[12] BBC Newshour interview with documentary filmmaker Shafiur Rahman, October 25, 2017. Rahman told the BBC he had interviewed the current secretary of the administration of Tula Toli, who told him that the Rohingya population of the village totaled 4,360, and the population of the neighboring Rakhine village was 350.

[13] Oliver Holmes, “Massacre at Tula Toli: Rohingya Recall horror of Myanmar Army Attack,” Guardian, September 7, 2017, (accessed November 29, 2017).

[14] All Human Rights Watch interviewees consistently identified Dual Toli and Wet Kyein as separate hamlets with separate ethnic make-up, Rohingya and Rakhine, respectively, but Dual Toli is identified on official Burmese maps as Wet Kyein.

[15] “Maungdaw under Attack: Police Posts Are Being Attacked By Radical Terrorists,” Myanmar International TV, August 25, 2017, (accessed October 25, 2017).

[16] Burmese Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Facebook post, August 28, 2017, (accessed November 29, 2017).

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Hamid Musaem, 29, Kutupalong camp, September 21, 2017.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. See also, Human Rights Watch interview with Hafez Mohammed Akram, 30, Kutapalong camp, Bangladesh, September 21, 2017. A resident of Tula Toli who sheltered some of the villagers from Dual Toli told the Guardian that at least ten people drowned in the river while fleeing Dual Toli. Holmes, “Massacre at Tula Toli: Rohingya Recall Horror of Myanmar Army Attack,” Guardian, September 7, 2017.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajuma Begum, 20, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 26, 2017.

[22] Human Rights Watch interview with Shawfika, 24, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, October 1, 2017. Other villagers also told Human Rights Watch that the village chairman had told them to go to the beach and promised them that they would be safe. Nur Mohammed, 19, said: “In the morning when I was having breakfast with my family, there was suddenly shooting and we ran to the beach. Our village chairman, Aung Ko Sing, told us it would be safe for us there.” Human Rights Watch interview with Nur Mohammed, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, October 2, 2017. In a BBC Newsnight video, Rohingya refugees from Tula Toli reported that shortly before the August 30 attack, the village chair drew up a written accord between local Buddhist Rakhine and Rohingya village leaders, which the Rohingya viewed as a guarantee of protection, even as violence flared up in surrounding villages. In a filmed phone interview, the chair claimed he did not have prior knowledge of the attack, and had no capacity to influence the military’s actions, stating: “That’s not up to me. This is government policy.” See BBC Newsnight, “Rohingya Crisis: The Tula Toli Massacre,” November 14, 2017, (accessed November 30, 2017).

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with Khotija, 42, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, October 2, 2017.

[24] Kathleen Prior, “I Knew Them, Yet They Were Killing Us,” CNN, September 18, 2017, asia/ethnic-cleansing-rakhine-rohingya/ (accessed October 23, 2017).

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajuma Begum, September 26, 2017.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with Shawfika, October 1, 2017.

[28] Ibid. Some witnesses said two holes were dug; several others, including Shawfika, said three holes were dug.

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajuma Khatoum, 35, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 25, 2017.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with Hafez Mohammed Akram, September 21, 2017.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Zakaria, 51, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 26,2017.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Hassina Begum, 20, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 22, 2017.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with “Fatima” (not her real name), 15, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 27, 2017.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Khotija, October 2, 2017.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with “Abdulaziz” (not his real name), 9, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 25, 2017.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with relatives of “Ali,” Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 25, 2017.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajuma Khatoum, September 25, 2017.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Hafez Mohammed Akram, September 21, 2017.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajuma Begum, September 26, 2017.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Ayas, 16, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, October 2, 2017.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Suleiman, 43, Kutapalong camp, Bangadesh, September 27, 2017.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Zaheed Hossein, 35, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 27, 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Amin, 25, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 27, 2017.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Rashida, 25, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 23, 2017.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajuma Begum, September 26, 2017.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with Shawfika, October 1, 2017.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Hassina Begum, September 22, 2017.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Rajuma Khatoum, September 25, 2017.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Mumtaz Begum, 30, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, September 26, 2017.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with “Fatima,” September 27, 2017.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Khotija, October 2, 2017.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with “Senzida” (not her real name), 16, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, October 2, 2017.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Update December 15 2017: On December 13 as Human Rights Watch was going to press, South Sudan’s council of ministers reportedly approved the hybrid court statute and the government’s memorandum of understanding with the African Union.  Human Rights Watch calls on the government to move promptly to take the next steps necessary to ensure the court becomes operational as soon as possible.


(Nairobi) – South Sudan’s top officials have failed to make good on promises to establish an African Union-South Sudanese hybrid court to try international crimes committed during the country’s civil war, Human Rights Watch said today. Four years into the conflict, both parties continue to commit grave human rights crimes against civilians.

Despite the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), which envisioned the hybrid court, abuses by all parties persist as the conflict continues to spread. South Sudan’s transitional government has neither ended violations by its army nor made progress toward setting up the court. The lack of progress points to the need for measures like targeted sanctions against officials responsible and an arms embargo, Human Rights Watch said.

“The government has consistently let deadlines slip while its forces commit crimes with impunity” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The people of South Sudan deserve justice, not a chain of broken promises, and so the international community should impose consequences.”

In September 2017, the AU Peace and Security Council issued a communiqué on South Sudan, warning that it would consider necessary steps, including sanctions, should the South Sudanese parties continue to delay implementing the peace agreement in full. The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, during a visit to South Sudan in October, similarly warned of sanctions if the government did not live up to its pledges.

South Sudan’s civil war began on December 15, 2013, when troops loyal to president Salva Kiir – a Dinka – clashed with those of then-Vice-President Riek Machar – a Nuer – in the capital, Juba. Within hours, mainly Dinka government troops carried out large-scale targeted killings, detentions, and torture of mainly Nuer civilians in various parts of Juba, while thousands of Nuer soldiers defected to an opposition army. In the following months, fighting spread to Bor, Bentiu, Malakal, and across the Greater Upper Nile region. As towns changed hands, soldiers on both sides killed thousands of civilians, often based on their ethnicity, and destroyed and pillaged civilian property.

In late 2015, conflict spread to the Equatorias, as new rebel groups claiming an affiliation formed, and government forces carried out deadly counterinsurgency campaigns in previously stable regions south and west of the capital. Government soldiers and allied fighters have attacked civilians sheltering inside the UN bases in Malakal and Juba, in blatant violation of international law. In July 2016, government and opposition forces fought in Juba and government forces attacked, killed, and raped civilians, including displaced people and foreign aid workers. Since the Juba crisis, government forces have continued to fight rebels in Central and Western Equatoria, Unity, and northern Jonglei.

The impact of the violence and abuses is devastating. More than 4 million people have fled their homes, with more than 2 million now refugees in neighboring countries. In February, the UN declared a famine in parts of Unity state, and almost half the country’s population faces acute food shortages.

In October 2015, the AU released the final report of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCoISS), which found that the warring parties had committed grave human rights abuses and war crimes. The commission’s findings were largely consistent with Human Rights Watch reporting, and proposed creating an AU-led process to bring those with the greatest responsibility for the atrocities to account.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (bottom L) and South Sudan's rebel commander Riek Machar (bottom R), together with African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui (top L), Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (top C) and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, attend the signing a ceasefire agreement during the Inter Governmental Authority on Development Summit on the case of South Sudan in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Feburary 1, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

The August 2015 agreement included a hybrid court to be established by the AU Commission to investigate and try those responsible for grave abuses since 2013. Under the agreement, the court is to consist of South Sudanese and other African judges and staff. Human Rights Watch findings on significant weaknesses in the national justice system support the need for the court.

More than two years later, the court has yet to be created.

In early 2017, the AU held consultations with the South Sudanese Justice Ministry that led to a draft statute for the court and a memorandum of understanding between the AU and the South Sudanese government on the establishment of the court. Both documents were submitted to the South Sudan council of ministers in August, but the government has taken no further action.

In a September communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council said the South Sudanese government should expedite creating the court and completing its part of the agreement, or face “necessary steps, including sanction measures, that could ensure effective and efficient implementation” of the agreement.

In December, government officials told Human Rights Watch researchers in Juba that a number of key ministers oppose the court, including the communications minister, Michael Makuei – against whom the US brought sanctions in September for undermining the peace process; the cabinet affairs minister, Martin Elia Lomuro; and the defense minister, Kuol Manyang.

Under the August 2015 agreement, the AU Commission has the authority to establish the court with or without the engagement of the South Sudanese government. If the transitional government continues to ignore its responsibilities under Chapter V of the peace agreement, the AU should proceed with the court on its own, Human Rights Watch said.

If a credible, fair, and independent hybrid court does not progress, the option of the International Criminal Court (ICC) remains and should be pursued, Human Rights Watch said. As South Sudan is not a party to the ICC, the UN Security Council would need to refer the situation to the court in the absence of a request from the government of South Sudan.

“The AU should ensure progress on the hybrid court, if necessary without cooperation from South Sudan’s leaders, or consider coercive measures like targeted sanctions against anyone responsible for obstruction,” Segun said. “If the leaders won’t stand by the victims of atrocities, the African Union should step up and show it won’t abandon this precedent-setting plan for accountability in one of the continent’s worst human rights crises.”

Documented Violations, Abuses Since the Peace Agreement
Since the 2015 peace deal was signed, Human Rights Watch has documented scores of cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, beatings, and torture, as well as numerous cases of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings, mostly by government forces in the context of counterinsurgency operations, but also crimes by opposition forces. Both sides also continued to forcefully recruit children to train and fight, despite pledges to stop. Army commanders overseeing abusive operations have not been investigated.

In March 2016, Human Rights Watch documented that government forces carried out killings, enforced disappearances, rapes, and other grave abuses against civilians belonging to Equatorian ethnic groups in the Western Equatoria region. Among those killed was a 34-year-old man arrested by soldiers in the Napere neighborhood of Yambio in November and detained for two months. His brother said he found the body weeks later: “He was tied and his face was rotten. All of his body was rotten. But I recognized him from his clothes, feet, and fingers.” The army commander of Yambio at the time, Col. Makeny Makor Buoy, was neither investigated nor tried. He was rotated to his home region of Lakes.

In Wau, in April 2016, researchers discovered that government soldiers had carried out a wide range of often-deadly attacks on civilians in and around the town, killing, torturing, raping, and detaining and disappearing civilians on the basis of their ethnicity, in addition to looting and burning down homes. A 55-year-old woman said that soldiers came to her village outside of Wau in March and shot her 60-year-old husband in the stomach and her 29-year-old son in the neck: “We were at home and then we heard shooting and we hit the ground and crawled away when a group of soldiers came in. There was no reason for them to target us.” The army commander of Wau at the time, Maj. Gen. Attayib “Taitai” Gatluak, was not investigated for his role in the crimes committed by his forces there, and has faced no charges for his participation in, or command responsibility for, any crimes.

Government soldiers killed at least 73 civilians, raped dozens of women, and extensively looted civilian property, including humanitarian goods, during and after clashes between government and opposition forces in Juba in July 2016. In many cases, government forces appeared to target non-Dinka civilians. A 35-year-old man said that two army picks-ups surrounded the hotel where he hid with 27 other Nuer men shortly before a ceasefire ended the fighting on July 11. A soldier knocked at the door and asked if any Nuer were staying there. “We urged the guard not to open. They asked, ‘Why are you hiding Nuer!’ and then they started to shoot with their heavy machine guns through the doors and wall. That’s how my friend Mading Chan was killed.”

The same day, a large number of soldiers overran the Terrain compound that housed a number of international organizations, executed a Nuer journalist, raped and gang-raped several women, and assaulted dozens of staff. International pressure led the government to establish an ad hoc tribunal to try armed personnel responsible for the attack, but no credible investigation was carried out to determine the responsibility for the scores of South Sudanese women raped, or civilians killed during and after the fighting officially ended in Juba on July 11.

The army chief of staff at the time, Paul Malong Awan, was replaced in April 2017, and has yet to be subject to criminal investigation to determine his responsibility for crimes committed while he was in command. He has since left South Sudan for Kenya.

In October 2016, researchers found that government and opposition forces had committed serious abuses in Yei, including killings, rapes, and arbitrary arrests by the army, and abductions by the rebels. On October 8, rebels ambushed a convoy of civilians leaving Yei and shot indiscriminately at a truck, then set it on fire. An 11-year-old boy who survived the attack said: “They started to shoot and I lay down [in the truck]. Others fell on top of me. One had been shot to the head.”

In mid-November 2016, an international journalist found seven charred bodies in a mud house in the outskirts of Yei, in a government-controlled area. Witnesses quoted by the Associated Press said the deceased were civilians who had been abducted and killed by men wearing uniforms. More than a dozen former detainees, released at the time of the Human Rights Watch visit, said they had been held by government forces in overcrowded cells in Yei with little food and water and routinely beaten and tortured.

In refugee camps in northern Uganda in May 2017, researchers heard from South Sudanese refugees that government forces indiscriminately fired into civilian settlements in the Equatoria region during counterinsurgency operations, killing many civilians. The attacks forced over a million South Sudanese to abandon their homes and livelihoods and flee across the border.

A woman from Kajo Keji county said that soldiers killed her husband and her two children, ages 5 and 10, while she was cooking dinner at home in January 2017: “About 10 soldiers came to our house. My son told me they had come, and my husband went out. They shot him. Then my other son followed him and they shot both boys. One soldier ran after me and severely twisted my arm. I managed to get away. And I just ran. With one arm, how do I care for my other children and my mother? I want to commit suicide.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Banjul) – Gambia’s truth commission bill, to be debated on December 13, 2017, is an important opportunity to shed light on human rights violations committed during the rule of former President Yahya Jammeh, Human Rights Watch said today. The National Assembly should amend the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission bill to prohibit amnesties for those responsible for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, or torture, in accordance with international law and practice.

Protesters march in Banjul on April 16, 2016 following the death in custody of opposition activist Solo Sandeng.

© 2016 Getty Images
“Gambia will greatly benefit from a truth-telling process that shines light on Jammeh’s abuses,” said Jim Wormington, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Gambian victims deserve a truth commission that gives them a platform to tell their stories and lays the groundwork for those most responsible for grave crimes to face justice.”

The proposed 11-person truth commission will document human rights abuses during Jammeh’s two-decade rule, which ended when he left for exile in January after losing a December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow. The bill permits the commission to grant amnesties to perpetrators who testify truthfully about their role in abuses. While it precludes amnesties for acts that “form part of a crime against humanity,” it does not rule them out for other serious crimes under international law.

Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou put forward the truth commission legislation after conducting a countrywide consultation process in August. The government also consulted widely with domestic and international nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch.

In appointing commissioners, the bill requires Barrow to consult with a range of civil society groups, including victims’ organizations, as well as to consider Gambia’s geographical, regional, and gender diversity. Identifying the right commissioners will be essential for the truth commission to be viewed as independent, impartial, and competent, Human Rights Watch said.

Tambadou told Human Rights Watch that the government will offer individuals the opportunity of an amnesty to encourage them to come forward to disclose their role in past abuses. The bill’s preamble states, “It is important to have an accurate and impartial historical record of the violations, [and] document them for posterity to ensure that ‘never again’ do we encounter a reoccurrence of such abuses.” The commission plans to hold public hearings and publish a final report, with the government required to issue a white paper within six months describing how it will implement the report’s recommendations.

The bill itself acknowledges that responding to Gambia’s legacy of human rights violations also means addressing the country’s culture of impunity. It empowers the commission to identify and recommend for prosecution the persons who bear the greatest responsibility for human rights violations and other abuses. However, by permitting amnesties for serious crimes that do not amount to crimes against humanity, the law could prevent many Gambian victims from seeking justice, Human Rights Watch said.

As the truth commission advances, the government should also consider whether and how the commission should share evidence with Gambian police and prosecutors investigating grave crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The justice ministry should consider negotiating a formal memorandum of understanding between the truth commission and public prosecutors that sets out how the commission will provide guidance to investigators while preserving the confidentiality of victims and witnesses.

“Gambia’s truth commission is the first step in efforts to bring justice to victims and hold those responsible for serious crimes accountable,” Wormington said. “Gambia’s international partners should assist the government to ensure that the commission achieves its important aims.”

In October, Human Rights Watch and Gambian and international groups launched the “Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice” (#Jammeh2Justice) to press for Jammeh, as well as those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes of his government, to be brought to trial with all due process guarantees. Jammeh now lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Mr. President,

Rome Statute at 20

This year’s Assembly session finds International Criminal Court (ICC) states parties on the eve of an important milestone: the twentieth anniversary in July 2018 of the adoption of the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

In these 20 years, the court has grown from aspiration to reality. While the ICC continues to learn lessons from its early practice, it is increasingly positioned to act as the court of last resort that its founders envisioned.

Its mandate is one that regrettably is as important as ever. This has been evident in the prosecutor’s requests this year to open investigations in Burundi and Afghanistan. 

As the court and its supporters push forward, there can be no doubt that there will be significant challenges. There is a changed political landscape to that of 1998. Consensus on the importance of justice can be elusive. In this Assembly, there has been too little attention to addressing non-cooperation and we urge strengthened efforts in this area next year.

But the cause of justice is no stranger to challenge, and the court has already known periods of political backlash. For as long as the ICC is doing its job, it will engender intense opposition from those who have reason to fear accountability. It has been the concerted efforts by and among states parties that have led to important results in overcoming that opposition.

The ICC needs the firm and consistent support of your governments to defend its mandate and to respect and defend its independence, and it needs to be able to count on that support when it matters most.

We look to the ICC’s states parties to seize the opportunity presented by the upcoming anniversary year. Through initiatives at the national and international level, we call on you to strengthen and make more visible your support for the ICC. Your efforts, we believe, will serve to bring new awareness in these more challenging times to the extraordinary commitment made in 1998 to stand resolutely with victims in the fight against impunity and that should not be neglected or lost. 

We welcome the Assembly’s decision to hold a plenary debate on the twentieth anniversary at this session. At the debate, ICC states parties have the chance to help focus the Assembly’s vision on the broader picture and to launch initiatives that identify key challenges to be addressed in the coming year.

Ensuring adequate resources

Staunch support is essential to the court’s success, but so too are financial resources.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that the current budgeting process for the ICC will continue to result in inadequate funding for the effective implementation of the court’s mandate.

The court has significant, outstanding resource needs; it is needed to act, at a faster pace, and in far more places than its current resources permit. And where it does act, it needs to bring charges representative of the most serious crimes and to do more to ensure victims can access their rights under the Rome Statute.

There is a significant mismatch between these needs and the Assembly’s budget negotiations, which appear aimed at satisfying a small number of states. We urge all states parties to consider that they, too, have a stake in the outcome of these negotiations, given the profound consequences for the court’s ability to deliver on the promise of Rome.

We look to states parties to scrutinize the Committee on Budget and Finance’s recommendations, to adopt a 2018 budget adequate to ensure the effective implementation of the court’s mandate, and to replenish the contingency fund up to the established threshold. We also look to states parties to call in their statements during this session for changes in the Assembly’s consideration of the budget so as to ensure decisions on its size are aimed at equipping the court to better and more efficiently meet the heavy demands and expectations for justice before it.  

Adoption of proposed amendments to Article 8

In July 2017, Belgium deposited proposed amendments to the Rome Statute with the UN secretary-general. These amendments would add four war crimes to Rome Statute article 8, specifically, the use of:

  • Biological or toxin weapons;
  • Anti-personnel mines;
  • Weapons causing injuries by fragments that in the human body escape detection by X-rays; and
  • Weapons causing permanent blindness.

Human Rights Watch supports the adoption of these amendments.

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder and serves as chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Co-Laureate. As such, we work for the universalization, implementation, and compliance of the Mine Ban Treaty, including adherence by the 35 states that have not acceded to it. We also worked for the adoption in 1995 of the protocol prohibiting blinding laser weapons. The weapons covered by the proposed amendments have been widely prohibited, but, at least with regard to anti-personnel landmines, are still in use by the armed forces of two states and non-state armed groups in approximately 10 countries, particularly the armed groups affiliated with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am