HRW – Human Rights Watch (Author)
Human Rights Developments
Floods, caused by two cyclones and record rains in early 2000, were the worst in living memory. Over 200,000 people were displaced but international relief efforts avoided serious loss of life. Despite the floods, Mozambique was ranked as among the world's fastest-growing economies during the year. Improvements in the respect for human rights were not as dramatic.
The floods followed presidential and parliamentary elections on December 3-5, 1999, which were rated as free and mostly fair. President Joaquim Chissano was sworn in again on January 15, having won 53.3 percent of the presidential vote against 47.7 for his rival, Afonso Dhlakama; in the voting for the national assembly, Chissano's ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) scored 48 per cent and took 133 of the 250 seats, against 38.81 percent and 117 seats for Dhlakama's Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO)-led opposition coalition. The parties' regional strength roughly matched that shown by the 1994 elections. FRELIMO made some gains in the north but RENAMO kept control over large areas there and in the center. In the south, where the RENAMO vote was insignificant in 1994, it did slightly better. The 5.3 million votes cast represented 74 percent of registered voters, down from the 88 percent turnout of 1994.
RENAMO at first rejected the declared results, then grudgingly accepted them when the Supreme Court declined its suit, then openly contravened the law governing party administration by declaring it had moved its headquarters to Beira, a party stronghold. Throughout the year, reports of intimidation by RENAMO and FRELIMO supporters increased.
Beira was particularly tense in February following the overnight distribution of leaflets by RENAMO saying Chissano was "a thief" and calling for a division of the country along the east-west line of the Save river. Riot police were deployed and a number of arrests of RENAMO supporters followed.
The most serious incident was on May 5, when a group of one hundred people led by senior RENAMO figures in the district, armed with clubs and bushknives, attacked a police station in the locality of Aube in Angoche district with the intention of stealing weapons. The police said they opened fire in self defense, killing four attackers (RENAMO puts the number of dead at eight and the Human Rights League a figure of six dead). The incident appeared to have been provoked by a dispute over paying tax in the local marketplace and the arrest of a RENAMO supporter by the police. A number of people were arrested, including RENAMO's political delegate in Angoche district, who was released on bail on May 18.
Police in the district of Sanga, in Niasa province, detained an opposition RENAMO supporter in July for reportedly conducting a campaign of intimidation, including arson, against government supporters. RENAMO in turn reported a rise of attacks against its supporters and provided Human Rights Watch with a list which could not be verified.
Police behavior remained the source of the majority of complaints Human Rights Watch received from Mozambique in 2000. Arbitrary detention and extortion were also common allegations, while prison conditions continued to be appalling. Despite publicity and debate on this issue, prisons such as the provincial facility in Nampula remained badly overcrowded. The Nampula civil provincial prison was built to house seventy-five prisoners, and at the time of this writing held 482, over half of them on remand awaiting trial. This prison lacked running water,food, or blankets, and the prisoners relied upon relatives to maintain them. Overcrowding was due to a lack of resources and space but also due to an overburdened criminal justice system.
Mozambique continued to play a leadership role in supporting the international ban on landmines and served as co-chair of the Standing Committee of Experts on Mine Clearance. Mozambique introduced U.N. General Assembly Resolution 54/45B, which was adopted in December 1999. In April 2000, work began on a national landmines survey. About five square kilometers of land were cleared of mines in 1999, bringing the overall total to 194 square kilometers. Despite fears that the February and March 2000 floods would result in an increase in mine casualties, the number continued to decline, falling from 133 in 1998 to sixty casualties in 1999. Foreign Minister Leonardo Simão attended the whole of the Second Meeting of States Parties of the Ottawa Landmine Ban Treaty, in September, the most senior official present for the duration of the conference.
Weapons left over from the civil war remained a problem, too. The Mozambican Council of Churches reported in September that its "Weapons to Hoes" project had met with success, collecting more than 55,000 weapons for destruction, and that a second phase of the project had begun in May.
Defending Human Rights
The Mozambican Human Rights League continued its work to monitor and remedy poor prison conditions and bad policing. The league had expanded its work into the provinces and had been successful in drawing domestic attention to ongoing abuses.
The Role of the International Community
The international community's prime focus during the year was on humanitarian assistance at the time of the floods. For post-flood, reconstruction emergency aid was quickly deployed and South Africa played an important role, including through helicopter rescue operations, while Western countries procrastinated during the early stages of the crisis. As with Hurricane Mitch in Central America fifteen months before, debt relief quickly became a central issue. Mozambique continued to be part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, which had reduced debt service payments by about U.S.$1 million weekly.
United States-Mozambique relations deteriorated over the election period, especially after the U.S. issued a statement in December 1999 suggesting that the government had been responsible for electoral fraud. A subsequent Washington Post article, quoting an undisclosed senior State Department official saying the government probably won by fraud, resulted in an even frostier period. The U.S. response to the flooding crisis led to a rapid improvement of the relationship as U.S. Marines were sent to assist in the relief efforts. During 2000 the U.S. continued to be the largest bilateral donor in Mozambique.