The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa

INTRODUCTION: 1975-1993--From "garrison socialism" to "savage capitalism"

On a September 1993 visit to Mozambique's five pre-university secondary schools, almost one year after the October 4, 1992 signing of the General Peace Accord between the ruling Frente para a Libertação de Moçambique (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) (FRELIMO) and the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (Mozambican National Resistance) (RENAMO), I asked a number of final year students what they understood by the term democracy. Almost all stressed freedom of expression and access to reliable information. For these young people, all of whom were born just before or just after Mozambique's independence in 1975 and whose only social and political experience has been that of the centrally-controlled FRELIMO state, hopes for the future are pinned to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration.

During my visit in December 1993, it became clear that, at least as far as the literate urban population is concerned, peace and the introduction of political freedoms and civil rights are the welcome benefits of the passage from the one-party socialist state to multi-party democracy. Indeed the Constitution of 1990 enshrines all basic human rights and sets the stage for the formation of a system of governance based on liberal principles. The seamier features of "garrison socialism" 2 such as the much-feared security police, the Serviço Nacional de Segurança Popular (National Service for Popular Security) (SNASP), political detentions, re-education camps, travel passes, public floggings and executions, all of which have been well-documented, 3 are now things of the past. The press, which is gradually freeing itself from government control, is critical and lively. Ratification of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its second Optional Protocol, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women are further indicators of the determination of Mozambique to brush away its Marxist-Leninist past to join the "New World Order."

By the same token, however, the perceived erosion of basic social and economic rights, in particular the rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living, are also attributed to the new order. In the opinion of many, the Programa de Reabilitação Economica e Social (Economic and Social Rehabilitation Program) (PRES), financed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and in operation since 1987, and concomitant changes in governance, while securing many basic freedoms and introducing necessary economic reforms, have so far had the overall effect of replacing "garrison socialism" by "savage capitalism." 4 The contrast between the ostentatious wealth of the foreign technical advisors and the few Mozambicans who are able to benefit from the flow of development aid, and the poverty of the majority is the most strikingly visible feature of Maputo, and, to a lesser extent, of the provincial capitals. Furthermore, drastic cuts in government spending threaten to implode the State. Declining civil service salaries encourage public functionaries either to abandon the State for the greener pastures of the "private sector" or the mushrooming international and national NGOs, or to remain in the State by boosting their government salaries from alternative sources. Corruption seeps downwards, resulting in the denial of the most basic services to those who cannot afford to "purchase" them. The press and the radio comment daily on the fact that access to public schools and public health services is increasingly dependent on the payment of bribes to teachers and health officials. By the same logic, policemen and women are suspected of a greater interest in exacting bribes than furthering justice. Because trained lawyers find more lucrative employ in the private sector, the depleted judicial system is unable to meet out justice in a timely fashion. Men and women accused of common crimes languish in appalling prisons for up to four years before judgments are handed down. As a result, the people themselves are meeting out "justice" with their own hands. Lynchings of suspected criminals have become a regular feature of suburban life and the principal attraction of Mozambique Radio's early-morning program "Onda Matinal" (Morning Wave). On Monday December 13, 1993, the Onda Matinal reporter, having interviewed people involved in two lynchings, commented: "The increase in the tide of criminality is causing many people to believe that in our country laws do not exist."

In general terms, therefore, the passage from the Marxist-Leninist phase of Mozambique's post-independence history to the new phase of "multi-party democracy" has effectively resulted in a year of peace, the formal introduction of all basic human rights and the promise of general elections in October 1994. While this marks a dramatic improvement on the past, it must nevertheless be noted that in practice the principal beneficiaries of the new liberal dispensation are the urban elites. While these people now enjoy most of the trappings of a modern democracy, the urban and rural poor struggle to survive in a most hostile environment caused by the ravages of war--over two million people were forced to seek refuge in the urban centers or in neighboring countries--and the incapacity of an impoverished and corrupt State to guarantee rights to personal security, protection of the law, work, an adequate standard of living, health and education. In effect, only those rights which do not require the active intervention of the State, such as the freedoms of expression, association, movement, and so on, are freely available to all. Those that depend on concrete State action, such as social and economic rights and the right to protection under the law, are increasingly available only to those who can afford to purchase them.

The above comments apply strictly only to those areas of the country controlled by the FRELIMO government. Knowledge about the human rights situation in RENAMO-held regions--almost all of them rural areas--is sparse. Recently, however, RENAMO has been accused of utilizing brutal means to curb opposition, and while RENAMO members have total freedom of movement throughout the country, people from FRELIMO areas wishing to enter RENAMO zones are obliged to obtain permission from local RENAMO officials. Although RENAMO President, Afonso Dhlakama, has recently held political rallies in a number of FRELIMO-controlled areas, including the Province of Gaza--home of FRELIMO's three Presidents Mondlane, Machel and Chissano--similar FRELIMO events have not been reported in RENAMO-controlled zones.


From within the State (1975-1993)

A marked characteristic of the FRELIMO State was that opposition to its more repressive laws and actions came from within its own ranks. While the leadership introduced public flogging, re-education camps and the like, other government officials were responsible for conducting research on traditional law and undertaking public education programs on the rights of citizens under the law.

From independence in 1975 until the promulgation of the 1990 Constitution, non-governmental organizations were beyond the law. All social thought and action emanated from within the State and the Party, which operated through "mass movements," such as the Organização da Mulher Moçambicana (Organization of Mozambican Women) (OMM), the Organização do Trabalhador Moçambicano (Organization of Mozambican Workers) (OTM), and the Organização do Jornalista Moçambicano (Organization of Mozambican Journalists) (OJM). Soon after independence in 1975 and the implementation of "garrison socialism," a process of the gradual erosion of human rights began. At first this involved the withdrawal of certain "first generation" rights (freedom of expression, association, and movement) in the name of socialist development, which was supposed to give priority to "second generation" rights such as the rights to education, health and a decent standard of living. With the intensification of the Cold War and the destabilization policies of neighboring South Africa which provided support for the rebel RENAMO, however, increasingly harsh measures were adopted to curb what were seen as "the enemies within." These included "Operation Production" by which the urban unemployed--including many single women accused of being prostitutes--were shipped out to be more productive in the distant province of Niassa, "re-education camps" to which thousands were banished without due legal process, and detention without trial, flogging and the death penalty. The Grupos Dinamizadores (Dynamizing Groups), which had originally been conceived as community organizers, aided the much feared East German-trained SNASP in hunting out "internal enemies." Even the Law Faculty of the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (Eduardo Mondlane University) (UEM) was closed down in 1984 for reasons which have never been made explicit, but which certainly had to do with a desire to eradicate this potential focus of opposition to the regime.

However monolithic the design of the FRELIMO State may have been, many of its servants who had never filiated themselves to the ruling party held contrary views to prevailing policy. Notable among these was a small group of lawyers working within the Ministry of Justice and the judicial system. Responsible for designing a system of "popular justice" after independence, they came to play a significant role in attempting to mitigate the worst effects of repressive legislation and judicial practice. Avoiding open confrontation with government, they operated within the law and existing political conditions to assuage the effects of the wave of repression. They developed a public education campaign designed to increase citizens' awareness of their rights under the law, and utilized their positions of influence to release as many citizens as possible from the injustices of detention without trial and, which amounted to much the same thing, banishment to re-education camps. In addition, they embarked upon a prison reform program and conducted important research to develop legislation--particularly in relation to family law--which would take into account the cultural, social and political specificities of Mozambique's many ethnic groups. 5 In 1987, the Minister of Justice established what was called the Human Rights Dossier, chaired by the Vice-President of the High Court, José Noberto Carrilho, and composed of three other prominent lawyers and judges. Its mandate was to oversee the human rights situation in the country and it was instrumental in bringing about the ratifications of the international covenants and conventions mentioned earlier.

To date, lawyers from the Ministry of Justice's Departamento de Investigação e Legislação (Department of Research and Legislation) (DIL) and the Instituto Nacional de Assistênca Jurídica (National Institute for Legal Assistance) (INAJ), in particular Anna Pessoa and Abdul Carrimo, continue to be most active in promoting citizens' rights through the publication of pamphlets and a series of "Know Your Rights" programs broadcast over the State-controlled Mozambique Radio. In 1989, it was this same group of lawyers which was responsible for drafting the new liberal Constitution which was approved by the Assembly of the Republic in 1990 after extensive public debate. More recently they have been active in drawing up the new Electoral Law, which was approved in December 1993.

The emergence of non-governmental activism (1990-1993)

With freedom of association guaranteed under the new Constitution and with abundant resources available for the "strengthening of civil society" from international NGOs, foreign governments and foundations, and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations system, a number of Mozambican non-governmental organizations have come into being over the past three years. Most of these organizations address issues of rural and urban development. In tune with the dominant development ideologies of the times, they place strong emphasis on "democracy," "popular participation," and the "empowerment" of women. Notable among these are the Fundação para o Desenvolvimento da Comunidade (Mozambican Community Development Foundation), the Associação PROGRESSO (Progresso Association), Mulher, Lei e Desenvolvimento (Women, Law and Development Association) (MULEIDE), and Associação Moçambicana para a Defesa da Família (Mozambican Association for the Defense of the Family (AMODEFA). The Canadian NGO, Cooperation Canada Mozambique (Cooperação Canadá Moçambique) (COCAMO), has been very active in the provincial capital of Nampula where it has given birth to three local NGOs, an adult education organization (Karibu), the União Geral de Cooperativas (General Cooperatives Union) (UGC), and Associação de Mulheres Rurais (Association of Rural Women) (AMR). In response to the economic and political dominance of the southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane, a number of provincial development organizations have also recently been formed in the northern and central provinces. In Nampula, Mwakhulele ("respond" in Emakhuwa, the dominant language of Nampula) was formed to promote pride in Makhuwa culture. In Quelimane, the Movimento Civico de Zambézia (Civic Movement for Zambezia) was founded by a group of intellectuals to develop projects in the Province of Zambezia.

While most of these movements operate to further social and economic rights, only MULEIDE places special emphasis on constitutionality and the law, conducting public education campaigns and providing legal assistance in cases of divorce and separation. MULEIDE played a significant role in campaigning for the Assembly of the Republic to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Non-governmental human rights activities in the strict sense of the term are thus far confined to teaching at the Law Faculty of the UEM and two infant organizations, NARIHRA (Network of Activists and Researchers on Integrated Human Rights in Africa) and the Liga Moçambicana dos Direitos do Homem (Mozambican League for Human Rights).

As one Mozambican sociologist and political commentator observed, resuming the thought of the many people which whom the researcher talked, ideology is a thing of the past. The issues are now about ethics. Dignity, he suggests, is giving way to subservience. As the State implodes and corruption and dishonesty become the norm rather than the exception, the restoration of public ethics and the defense of human rights are fundamental to safeguard a society in massive transition from Marxism-Leninism to multi-party democracy, and from bitter war to a lasting peace. The obstacles are legion. The economy is in tatters, 78 percent of the state budget is provided by foreign aid, the minimum wage of about US$14 per month cannot purchase subsistence, and mistrust between the leadership of RENAMO and FRELIMO is proving difficult to overcome. On the positive side, civil and political liberties are formally guaranteed by the Constitution, the press is increasingly critical and free from government control, the peace has held, and reconciliation in most rural areas is a reality.

The ability of a Mozambican human rights movement to become firmly established will not depend on the availability of international funds and advice alone. Peace and the construction of democratic governance may be facilitated by the United Nations, but their consolidation will surely depend ultimately on Mozambicans' own ideas and efforts. By the same token, while international support for human rights is readily available, strong and legitimate human rights organizations will emerge from within Mozambican society through the will and determination of committed groups and individuals.

Given the incipient nature of the human rights organizations in Mozambique, the list of their needs seems endless. However, in reality, they are more basic than endless. While most would agree on the extreme importance of an independent human rights movement as a fundamental guardian of the rights of citizens at this time of political and economic turmoil, effective forms of organization and action have yet to be found.

There is much that the international community can do in this situation, the effects of which could be either negative or positive. Negative effects will result from the wanton distribution of funds and advice to projects whose rhetoric is appealing but whose basis might be shaky. Positive effects will come from the establishment and promotion of the kind of dialogue that allows for the sharing of understandings rather than the imposition of agendas. The incipient Mozambican human rights movement already counts on dedicated men and women, but they would all like to know more about the human rights field in order to define their own goals and strategies.

Thus, assistance provided to the nascent human rights community of Mozambique should be structured around the imparting of knowledge rather than advice. This can be done by:

- making available as much relevant literature as possible, if necessary translating key texts into Portuguese; and

- funding human rights exchanges between Mozambique and other countries.

Experienced human rights workers from abroad could visit Mozambique to converse with their Mozambican counterparts and Mozambican activists would certainly benefit from visits to established organizations elsewhere. These exchanges should initially concentrate on enabling the Mozambicans to define their primary goals and viable strategies for action. By these means, the international community may be able to contribute to a process whereby the human rights field is allowed to develop on the sound basis of local ideas and people. Even if many Mozambican institutions will remain financially dependent on the international donor community for some time to come, there is no reason why they should as a consequence lose control over the forms, goals and strategies of their own institutions.


Universidade Eduardo Mondlane
Eduardo Mondlane University

In 1993, under the leadership of the Director and Vice-Director of the Faculty of Law of the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Machatine Munguambe and Teodósio Uate respectively, Human Rights was introduced as a regular discipline in the undergraduate curriculum. Directed by Teodósio Uate, the course covers the history of the human rights movement with special reference to the situation in Mozambique.

Liga Moçambicana dos Direitos do Homem
(The Mozambican League for Human Rights)

Invited to the World Conference on Human Rights because of her interest in forming an Association of Women Lawyers in Mozambique, Maria Alice Mabota, a third year law student at the UEM Law Faculty, was exposed for the first time to a major human rights discussion. In further contact with other Portuguese-speaking delegates, she decided that to found such a movement in Mozambique. Armed with a copy of the statutes of the Guinea-Bissau League for Human Rights, she drew up a very similar document for Mozambique and organized a few informal meetings with about a dozen Maputo intellectuals drawn from the press, government and the universities.

The primary goals, strategies and methods of the Liga Moçambicana dos Direitos do Homem have not yet been clearly defined. Areas of possible concern are the state of prisons, abuses by public officials, in particular the police, and the increasing poverty of the majority of the population.

Network of African Researchers and Intellectuals on Integrated Human Rights in Africa

In 1991 lawyers from throughout Africa met to discuss human rights issues in the continent. A year later another workshop resulted in the foundation of the Network of African Researchers and Intellectuals on Integrated Human Rights in Africa (NARIHRA), under the Presidency of Teodósio Uate and with Kenyan lawyer, Shadrack Gutto, as Secretary General. Members of the Executive Committee were drawn from Ethiopia, Egypt, and Senegal. For the first year, MULEIDE provided NARIHRA with an office space and a post box number, but withdrew these services due to NARIHRA inaction. The organization has not been registered in Mozambique.

The Religious Community

The Catholic Church, the Protestant Conselho Cristão de Moçambique (CCM) and, to a lesser extent, the Islamic Council and the Islamic Congress, have played a crucial role in bringing peace to Mozambique. 6 During the 1980s the Protestant churches initiated mediation between RENAMO and FRELIMO. The Catholic Church then hosted the peace negotiations (1990-1992) at the Santo Egídio Community in Rome. Subsequently the churches have launched reconciliation programs and have been instrumental in facilitating collaboration between the government and RENAMO at the local level. After having been one of the major targets of FRELIMO anti-colonial ire (in 1975 all church assets and services were nationalized), the churches are now perceived as a neutral force for peace and justice.

Commissão Católica de Justiça e Paz

(Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace)

Presided over by the Archbishop of Beira, Dom Jaime Gonçalves--who also heads CARITAS-Mozambique--the Commissão Católica de Justiça e Paz has been inactive since the early 1980s, when protests were made over the forced relocation into communal villages, torture, public floggings and executions and "disappearances." Now, however, the Commissão appears to be taking on an active role again. In 1992 a national seminar was held under the auspices of CARITAS on "Reconciliation," and in 1993 a second was organized around the theme of human rights. Important initiatives are also being undertaken at the parish level, where small groups of priests and lay people conduct training sessions in politics and economics in an effort to prepare the people for the exercise of the democratic vote in 1994. These groups are also encouraged to document "situations of injustice." In the archdiocese of Maputo, Father José Angel of the industrial parish of Nhangene is the "Spiritual Animator" of the Commissão Católica de Justiça e Paz. With minimal resources he has concentrated his work thus far on social and economic rights, taking up cases of non-payment of salaries as well as unjust and uncompensated dismissals in the local factories. He would like to extend his work to the documentation and denunciation of the arbitrary behavior of the police, but lacks staff and resources for the compilation of reliable data.

Conselho Cristão de Moçambique

(The Christian Council of Mozambique)


Composed of the Protestant churches and increasing numbers of "syncretic" Christian churches (Mazion), the Conselho Cristão de Moçambique (CCM) is deeply involved in preparing the people, especially the poor, for taking a more active role in relation to their rights. Through the Program for Justice and Peace, which is a continuation of the Program for Peace and Reconciliation which preceded the General Peace Accord and which is headed by the Anglican Bishop of Maputo, Dinis Sengulane, popular education programs are developed for all the member churches. In the context of the preparations for Mozambique's first general elections, the CCM is most active in voter education. The CCM is, however, like the non-governmental organizations mentioned earlier, less concerned with strictly legal issues and "first generation" rights and more with growing poverty. The emphasis lies in stimulating initiative and local level and of encouraging active participation among a population which has for many years been necessarily the passive object of government action. Communities are being encouraged to speak out on such issues as low wages, unemployment, the abuse of authority and access to land. The CCM has been in constant dialogue with Maria Alice Mabota, who has requested their advice and support for the League.

2 This term, attributed to Professor John Markakis, is utilized by the authors of the excellent Africa Watch Report Conspicuous Destruction: War, Famine and the Reform Process in Mozambique, Human Rights Watch: New York, Washington, Los Angeles, London, 1992.

3 Conspicuous Destruction, Human Rights in Developing Countries 1989 Yearbook, Amnesty International Report 1989, 1991.

4 This term was coined some years back to describe the economic (dis)order in Brazil.

5 It is difficult objectively to quantify ethnic plurality in Mozambique since boundaries between ethnic groups and linguistic communities are in a constant state of flux and are defined by changing criteria. The River Save divides the country into two descent systems, however. Groups to the north practice matrilineal descent, while those to the south, patrilineal descent.

6 I rely heavily on the data and insights of Alex Vines and Ken Wilson in their, "Churches and the Peace Process in Mozambique," unpublished paper presented to "The Christian Churches and Africa's Democratization" conference, 20-23 September 1993, University of Leeds.

- Peter Fry

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