Africa & WorldAnalysis

The legality of SADC’s deployment in northern Mozambique

By Witness Muronzi

In order to ascertain whether the jus in bello component of the law of force is applicable to the conflict in Mozambique or not, it is imperative to first understand the nature of the conflict that is unravelling in Cabo Delgado, the players involved, their motives and reactions thereto from both the government of Mozambique, the international community, regional bodies and other state and non-state actors interested in developments there.

This is necessary as it helps to clarify whether the conflict is a civil war, an insurgency or terrorism and whether it threatens regional peace by spilling over to neighbouring countries.

A civil war is a war fought between factions of the inhabitants of a single country while and insurgency is a rebellion by part of the population that are opposing authority and terrorism is the deliberate commission of violence to create public fear through the suffering of victims in the furtherance of a political or social agenda.

Either way, evidence on the ground points to the use of armed force and presence of violence. Thus, this analysis is of the view that what is happening in Mozambique is not a civil war but an insurgency that has mutated into an Islamic State (IS) terrorist variant. The question that remains then is, does jus in bello apply in this case? If it does, how can it be applied given that the armed insurgents are not respecting it?

The law of armed force is traditionally conceptualized in the categories of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. This paper takes an interest in the jus in bello component of the law of force. It emphasizes that the requirements of necessity, proportionality and humanity should apply independently of the cause of armed conflict. Thus, the jus in bello is concerned with just conduct in the execution of war.

However, the intensification of asymmetric warfare in the post 9/11 attacks has made the distinction between war and peace, military success and failure and enemy and innocent to become fluid and contested. The war is supposed to be a just war.

However, unjust combatants cannot conform to jus in bello proportionality. A military advantage cannot inherit moral value from a war aim that has no moral value to pass on, and a military advantage with no moral value cannot morally justify inflicting civilian losses.  On their view, every harm unjust combatants inflict on civilians is morally disproportionate.

Therefore the war of terror can be regarded as a just war on the basis of upholding human rights standards instead of threatening them. One prominent element of the ‘new rules’ proposed for this ‘new war’, then, was the restriction of the rights of unjust combatants. The stark contrast between the combatants on opposing sides drives the idea that there may be a moral as well as military asymmetry in the war on terror.

There are three (3) main categories that explain the occurrence of insurgency in Mozambique. These are the push, pull and contextual factors.  Push factors are those circumstance that drive persons to resort to violent extremism. These include inequality, marginalization, persecution, denial of rights, historical, environmental and other socio-economic grievances.

Meanwhile, pull factors are those circumstances that nurture the appeal of extremism. These include the existence of well-resourced violent extremist groups that provide incentives to members in order to radicalize them. In this category lies religious groups that appear to offer spiritual counselling and comfort to new members.

Lastly, there are also contextual factors prevalent in Mozambique that promote violent extremism. These include the existence of a fragile government that failed in previous years to deal with a civil war involving Alfonso Dhlakama, the former leader of RENAMO and criminality, where the Matsanga bandits were allowed to flourish.

Turning to the current conflict in Mozambique, the insurgency involving Islamist militants began in 2017 when the local al-Shabaab militia aligned to the IS intensified its militant attacks in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. The group was riled by high levels of poverty in a resource rich region.

Human rights groups have reported extensive destruction throughout the Cabo Delgado region in Mozambique perpetrated by these militants. They kill, kidnap and behead their victims with over 50 people being beheaded in one incidence in 2020 sending shock waves across the globe. Thus, the insurgents disregard human rights and the rule of law by taking the law into their own hands in disregard of the jus in bello.

Their motive is to set up an Islamic State in northern Mozambique, which would control the gas and oil reserves that have been discovered in that region that are being explored by foreign multinational corporations at the behest of the Mozambican government and also, at the expense of the local citizens there who feel that they are not benefitting from the God-given resources.

This takes this paper to an analysis of categorization of what really is going on in Mozambique using a funnel approach i.e. taking into consideration what the international and regional community has said pertaining to the conflict in Mozambique. It is imperative to establish these reactions as they may help to ascertain whether the jus in bello principle of a just war can be satisfied in Mozambique judging from precedent cases in the post 9/11 era.

In that respect, the USA has categorized the insurgency in Mozambique as terrorism. America has designated al-Shabaab in Mozambique as a “foreign terrorist organization” that is affiliated to the Islamic State. Human rights watch dog, Amnesty International accused both the insurgents and the government of Mozambique of committing war crimes, which necessitates humanitarian intervention. Thus, western governments have called for intervention in Mozambique in order to protect their economic interests there.

SADC has also categorized attacks in northern Mozambique as a variant of terrorism. SADC therefore has resolved to intervene in Mozambique in order to protect civilians and as well, counter the spill over effect of the conflict there, which may be imported to neighbouring countries. Thus, in general, most states are in agreement that what is unfolding in Mozambique is terrorism even though the Mozambican government had rubbished that.

This takes us back to the War on Terrorism that America declared following the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks. Was it a just war? Was it necessary as per dictates of the jus in bello? The human rights justifications adduced for war and regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan, the length and human cost of these campaigns, and the abuses and violations associated with these conflicts have damaged both the status of leading western powers as ‘norm carriers’ for humanitarian concerns and rendered the general idea of humanitarian war apparently oxymoronic.

Theoretically though, ideas of just war are closely connected to accounts of human rights. Thus, the notion of supreme emergency, which is the principled suspension or disregard of jus in bello constraints is most persuasively viewed against the backdrop of, and configured by an underlying wider account of human rights.

This legacy of the war on terror was visible in the caution surrounding the NATO intervention in Libya, which made use of the jus in bello component of the law on humanitarian intervention. The war was lawfully declared by a lawful authority, which was the United Nations through UNSC resolution 1973 of 2011.

The resolution was passed following an escalation of state violence targeting civilians in Libyan Arab Janahiriya, which was viewed as an act against humanity. Thus, the resolution like in this case of Mozambique was about protecting the civilian population and facilitating unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance to the affected.

Thus, the overwhelming aim was to halt the state sponsored violence and attain a ceasefire. The actions of Libya then were regarded as a threat to international peace and security hence, action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes the use of force was instituted.  All member states to the UN were consequently authorized to take all necessary means to protect civilians and this gave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization the basis to intervene in Libya.

To that end, the war against Libya in 2011 was regarded as a just war on the basis that its overall aim was to protect humanity. The same can be applied to the Mozambican case, where the government there has not only failed to protect humanity from the deleterious effects of insurgency but also stands accused of perpetrating the same.

The jus in bello requires that a war must be for a just cause and the intention of the war must be for a good cause. Intervening in Mozambique to save humanity would seem to be a good cause and therefore necessary given the fact that the violence has been soaring from when it began.

 Additionally, efforts by regional bodies such as SADC to resolve the conflict without resorting to armed confrontation seem to have hit a brick wall. The regional body has since the conflict surfaced held Troika and Double Troika meetings in order to manage the conflict in the northern part of Mozambique but without success. International players have also lobbied for peaceful resolution of the same but their efforts have fallen on deaf ears.

It would seem there is no other way to solve this impasse other than resort to a good war.  The jus in bello component of force requires that all the other ways of resolving the conflict should have failed. As is, all else seem to have failed to resolve the conflict as the insurgents are recruiting more members, committing more atrocities and even intensifying their acts by using sophisticated weaponry.

The war must be then be lawfully declared by a lawful authority such as the UNSC, in order to serve humanity and all members just like in the case of Libya should be called to do whatever they can to save humanity in Mozambique. SADC just like NATO in the Libya case therefore taken the lead in containing the threat posed by that conflict. At the same time, there must be a reasonable chance of success.

From picking up nuances from the ongoing discussion, one can be able to discern that the jus in bello component of the law of force is applicable in the case of Mozambique. That the conflict in Cabo Delgado is internal and involves conventional army against an unconventional one does not take away applicability of the jus in bello to that conflict. The goal would be to protect humanity from atrocities that are being perpetrated by the Islamist insurgents. Thus, SADC’s decision to deploy in Mozambique is justified under international law.

  • About the author: Witness Muronzi is a Student of Politics and a social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.
  • He can be contacted via email on: muronziwitness@gmail.comZimbabwe Voice

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