Peacekeeping Operations to Address Counterinsurgency and Criminal Deviance in Mozambique

Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, Air University Press --

Foreign troops in Mozambique
Foreign troops in Mozambique
A convoy of armoured vehicles is seen patrolling in Mocimboa da Praia, northern Mozambique, on August 12, 2021. - Apart from a few soldiers on patrol, the streets are deserted and there is not a sound: Mocimboa, a strategic port in the north of Mozambique occupied until recently by armed jihadist groups, is a ghost town, between wild grass and ruined buildings. Some of the houses used by the jihadists -- who have been sowing terror in the north of the country for more than three years and took the town just a year ago -- are preceded by signs in Swahili: "Do not enter" or even "Do not destroy". (Photo by Emidio JOZINE / AFP) (Photo by EMIDIO JOZINE/AFP via Getty Images)
VIRIN: 211117-F-YT915-009

The gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique is a hotbed of insurgency and violence. Homegrown extremists have held the province hostage and contrary to the interests of the Mozambique government.1 It is challenging to establish whether there is a genuine presence of partiality. As events continue to unfold, however, the warriors of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) standby forces are dedicated to achieving their strategic objectives and have been charged with the responsibility of liberating the province from the control of criminals.2 The aim of the SADC missions is to divide the citizenry from insurgents and install the rule of law, although potentially such efforts may tear apart the citizens of Mozambique. There is a revolution at play, and the real revolutionaries will have to be able to amalgamate, as well as harmonize, communities with the nation’s development agenda or popular sovereign interests in the province.

There are underlying socioeconomic rights that have not been realized due to instability in the province, and the need for energy generation must be held in a delicate equilibrium to prevent the relocation and abandonment of the most marginalized communities in Cabo Delgado.3

Tension between the Rules of Engagement and Law of Armed Conflict

International humanitarian law (IHL) is applicable to contesting parties within the domain of international armed conflicts,4 and its principles maintain jurisdiction in a state engaging in kinetic warfare against nonstate armed groups (NSAG).5 IHL established a distinction between non-international armed conflicts,6 and thus insurgents qualify as NSAGs under the Geneva Convention.7 These dissident armed forces operate under responsible command, exercise control over territory, and are capable of carrying out sustained operations.8 There are two essential criteria conditions that determine whether combative interactions between a state and NSAGs constitute an armed conflict. The first condition is that hostilities must reach a minimum level of intensity of violence that mere law enforcement cannot counteract and therefore is obliged to invite military force.9 The second condition is that NSAGs must be considered parties to the conflict, which means that they have organized armed forces and that such armed forces have a command structure with the capacity to sustain armed operations.10 Consequently, individuals involved in the Mozambique conflict are obligated to uphold the principles of the law of armed conflict and can be held liable for failure to adhere to them.

Uniformed soldiers are usually highly disciplined, educated, physically fit, and generally responsible humans performing functions for the welfare of their country. However, that does not prevent competent or well-trained warriors from being unaware of their dispositional, situational, and/or systemic circumstances evolving while on duty, as well as when performing critical tasks under deployment. Soldiers follow orders from responsible commanders and execute them in accordance with their code of conduct, training, and constitutional or legislative mandate that bestows such warriors with the authority to exercise lethal measures on perceived enemies.11

In an ambush scenario, warriors find it extremely difficult to respect the law of armed conflict but are usually aware of the concept of humanity that forbids the infliction of inhuman or degrading treatment and/or destruction that is not necessary to accomplish the realization of legitimate orders.12 Consequently, warriors must not use lethal force on wounded, fleeing, and/or captured enemy combatants, since such humans are no longer able to participate in the armed conflict and do not threaten the safety of persons or infrastructure.13 The pillars of distinction, proportionality, and necessity embodied within IHL require that warriors undertake reasonable efforts to minimize injuries to civilians, medics, and noncombatants and property. However, these pillars are not always considered relevant where civilians are working with an enemy contingent and are perceived to have elected to side with it; thus, some warriors may determine that kinetic measures can be deployed against such persons.14

The current solution to insurgency in Mozambique is concerning and indicates an intention to neutralize, destroy, and/or deter extremism by infusing fear in settlements harboring insurgents. However. this may have disastrous outcomes, even though the intention is to secure the interests or territorial integrity of the SADC. The ramifications of offensive kinetic measures on a domestic community from which such criminals are birthed can propel unforeseeable radicalization.

Mozambique's approach to insurgency is aggressive and counterproductive, as it can be disastrous for the prosperity of the country. The elimination of perceived enemies can lead to unintended animosity that festers within the communities subjected to lethal domestic or foreign firepower against members of their sovereign.

Peacekeeping Operations

Peacekeeping operations are anchored on the solemn objectives of protecting vulnerable communities, promote socioeconomic engagement through multidimensional mandates, and strive toward the realization of modest peace, as well as consciously navigating acute conflicts to set boundaries to secure paths for general domestic stability.15 Oversight of peacekeeping missions is also crucial, and there are United Nations agencies as well as independent organizations that audit the efficacy of such missions, which is vital to ensure that peace operators address the specific needs of certain communities residing in areas accustomed to political instability, insurgency, and/or ethnic clashes.16

Peace operators from different continents are essential, since such operators or law enforcement tend to appear neutral to natives, and most probably exhibit protective efforts for the security of marginalized civilians that provides positive reassurance of goodwill, especially within locations that have experienced native criminals terrorizing every custom in their formerly civilized community.17

Radicalization and Extremism

The effect of kinetic warfare can be retrogressive, particularly where some insurgents are parents or children, as there is a potential for relatives to bear arms in the pursuit of justice for the blood that has been shed by nonnative combatants, within or outside the boundaries of their communities. Consequently, there can be an endless cycle of violence and enduring hatred within a fragmented citizenry. Extrajudicial neutralization of criminals or perceived insurgents can unintentionally promote extremism and further the entrenchment of radicalization.18 The SADC standby force should consider embracing peacekeeping as its modus operandi to achieve stability or security in Mozambique instead of utilizing an asymmetrical standby force with kinetic measures to impose dominance over communities struggling with poverty or illiteracy.19

Peacekeeping can potentially tackle criminal deviance by expending resources that disintegrate the dispositional, situational, and systemic evils that appear to prevail within the province. Ultimately, the SADC should consider focusing on the governance and executive delivery structures to assess whether essential or security services are efficient and adequately equipped to address insurgency in the long run.


There is a range of options available to Mozambique, and if appropriately applied, this should be sufficient to deal with any challenges that can be addressed under the existing domestic criminal justice system. Extrajudicial neutralization should be reserved for acute circumstances involving combatants exercising lethal offensive measures or guerrilla warfare against domestic or foreign populations that requires immediate lethal response and/or asymmetrical self-defense. The threats faced by the country are existential and dynamic. However, it may be prudent to build law enforcement capabilities as well as disseminate educational information to communities dealing with extremism through active community engagement or participation in awareness campaigns.20

Independent oversight authorities should be conducting humanitarian surveillance, and the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can complement such oversight to ensure that kinetic measures executed by warriors in armed conflicts are held to account, especially where civilians are encamped or potentially exposed to the effects of lethal force. UASs can collect audio-visual evidence for evaluation and can be essential for disciplinary proceedings. They can also be necessary to support effective counterinsurgency strategies to ensure that warfare does not deteriorate from the principal objectives of the SADC or peacekeeping operations more generally.

Blue helmets signify something profound to civilians who are trapped or encamped among insurgents or cartels that exercise tyranny over them and citizens of foreign countries. After insurgents complete their operations, some return to their communities and consequently find refuge or hide among civilians who sometimes lack awareness of the terrible conduct of such criminals, as well as their transnational criminal deviance, but find themselves unable to resist the lure of radicalization or consider it impracticable to deter homegrown insurgents to avoid possible inhumane punishments.

Robert Uri Dabaly

Mr. Dabaly is a human rights defender, a lawyer, and a master’s of law candidate, international humanitarian law, at the University of Essex. His research interests include international security, counterinsurgency, extremism, symmetric or asymmetric kinetic warfare, and peacekeeping operations.

1 DW, “Mozambique Welcomes African Forces to Help Tackle Insurgency,” dpa, AFP, Reuters (26 July 2021),

2 DW, “Mozambique Welcomes African Forces to Help Tackle Insurgency.”

3 See A. Fagan, “The Gentrification of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly 41 (2) (2019): 283–308

4 Statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Article 5, 2(g) [The ICRC has been entrusted “to work for the understanding and dissemination of knowledge of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts and to prepare any development thereof.”]

5 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (September 2006).

6 1949 Geneva Convention, Article 3.

7 1949 Geneva Convention, Additional Protocol (II), Article 1(1).

8 1949 Geneva Convention, Additional Protocol (II), Article 1(1).

9 ICTY, The Prosecutor v. Fatmir Limaj, Judgment, IT-03-66-T, 30 Nov. 2005, 135–70 [providing analysis of the criteria].

10 ICTY, Limaj Judgment.

11 Statute of the ICC, Article 8(2)(f) [“[I]t applies to armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between government authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups.”]

12 See N. Lubell and A. Cohen, “Strategic Proportionality: Limitations on the Use of Force in Modern Armed Conflicts,” International Law Studies 96 (2020): 217–22.

13 See Richard Date, “The Line between Doctrine and Ethics,” LinkedIn article (17 Nov. 2019),

14 Date, “The Line between Doctrine and Ethics.”

15 United Nations, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, “Principles and Guidelines” (2008), 17–79.

16 United Nations, United Nations Peacekeeping, “The Role of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in Addressing Local Conflicts” (2017), 11–18.

17 United Nations Department of Peace Operations, “The Protection of Civilians in United Nations Peacekeeping Handbook” (2020), 95–130.

18 See Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, “Further Militarisation Will Not End Mozambique’s Insurgency,” Al Jazeera (6 May 2021),

19 See Joseph Sany, “Pathways to Peace in Mozambique: Addressing Root Causes of Insurgency and Humanitarian Crisis in Cabo Delgado Is Key to Stabilizing This Strategically Important Province,” United States Institute of Peace (19 May 2021),

20 ICRC, “Why Engaging with Non-state Armed Groups?,” International Committee of the Red Cross (5 July 2021),

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