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Killings in Mozambique Target Lawyers, Judges


Several civil society organizations are calling for a return to justice in Mozambique following a series of killings targeting lawyers and judges in the country.

Carlos Mondlane, president of the Mozambican Association of Judges, said that in recent years, criminals have tried to intimidate and silence the justice system through attacks against judges and lawyers. Another group, the Mozambican Human Rights League, said the killings were going unsolved because of police indiscipline, corruption and an absence of professional ethics.

The most recent examples of assassinations of jurists included the killings of Giles Cistac, a French-Mozambican lawyer shot in Maputo in 2015; senior prosecutor Marcelino Vilanculos, slain in April of this year; and Dinis Carlos Silica, another prosecutor.

"Organized crime is rampant," Mondlane told VOA's Portuguese service. He said judges and prosecutors handling cases related to abductions and violent crimes such as homicides needed the most protection and often received death threats.

Kidnappings probed

When he was killed, Vilanculos was investigating the kidnappings of a Portuguese citizen and two Mozambican businessmen. His investigation led to at least five arrests. In 2013, he investigated two other abductions, in which four people were ultimately convicted.

Silica, slain in May 2014 in Maputo, was investigating cases of trafficking in persons to South Africa and Swaziland, abductions in Maputo, and drug trafficking — including the case of Mohamed Bashir, an infamous narco-trafficker accused of exporting millions of dollars' worth of drugs and overseeing expansive networks reaching Asian countries.

Each prosecutor had a reputation for being honest and professional.

According to the U.S. State Department, organized crime takes advantage of Mozambique's porous borders and proximity to the South African market to traffic in narcotics and wildlife and engage in human smuggling.

Cistac was a constitutional law expert known for defending the positions of the Mozambican opposition, the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO). He was a supporter of the RENAMO project to decentralize power in Mozambique, which was opposed by the country's ruling party, the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO). The lawyer's killer or killers have never been brought to justice, although the crime happened in broad daylight in the nation's capital.

Political assassinations

Other killings of public officials have plagued the country in recent months, including assassinations of members of the nation's three main political parties. The violence threatens to derail peace talks between FRELIMO and RENAMO. Mondlane hopes government officials can offer more protection to lawyers and judges because, he said, the killings are an attempt by organized crime to maintain control in the country.

For her part, the president of the Mozambican Human Rights League, Alice Mabota, is worried for the security not only of the legal community but also of all the citizens who live in Mozambique. Mabota said that "heinous crimes like murder and kidnapping occur in broad daylight," and she stressed that the police weren't taking appropriate actions.

Jurist Dinis de Sousa considers this issue to be larger than these cases involving the killings of judges and lawyers. In what was said to be politically motivated attacks, at least 10 high-profile figures have been killed since March 2015, according to Zenaida Machado of Human Rights Watch, who spoke to VOA in October. Machado added that the numbers were higher than those officially reported.

Meanwhile, the Mozambican justice minister, Isaac Chande, said the government had done everything possible to ensure that the administration of justice was efficient and that those guilty of homicides were brought to justice.

"We are working with all justice departments, as judges and prosecutors, to solve all those problems," he told journalists.

Anabela Guedes and Alvaro Andrade contributed to this report.

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    Salem Solomon

    Salem Solomon is a journalist and web producer at Voice of America’s Africa Division, where she reports in English, Amharic and Tigrigna. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Poynter.org, Reuters and The Tampa Bay Times. Salem researches trends in analytics and digital journalism, and her data-driven work has been featured in VOA’s special projects collection.

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