A series of videos showing Mozambican police officers abusing, humiliating and torturing civilians were posted this week on social media. According to several sources, the victims in the video are "garimpeiros", artisanal miners, who were arrested for mining without permits near the Montepuez ruby mine, of which the British company Gemfields is a majority stakeholder. Our Observers says this is far from an isolated incident.
UPDATE 26/7 6pm: According to Portuguese press agency Lusa, the spokesperson for the Mozambican police commanders, Inácio Dina, confirmed that this torture had taken place in the Montepuez ruby mines. The police also identified the officers that appear in the video, although were not able to confirm when the video was taken.
Montepuez Ruby Mining contacted France 24 after the publication of this article to insist that "the specific location of the incidents has yet to be confirmed", and that it is not possible to state with certainty that the torture actually took place on the MRM concession.
The director-general of Montepuez Ruby Mining, Gopal Kumar, was interviewed on Mozambican TV at the end of July, where he denied that the torture shown in the videos had happened. "Our company has a good relationship with the local community and does not tolerate mistreatment," he said.
On Monday, July 17, a Mozambican journalist took to Facebook to post four videos showing the disturbing methods used by Mozambican police officers assigned to the Montepuez ruby mine in the northern part of the country. The footage shows armed, uniformed officers, who can be heard speaking in Portuguese, abusing a group men dressed in dirty, dusty clothes.
FRANCE 24 decided to refrain from publishing the videos due to their extremely disturbing nature but has published screen grabs (below).
In the first video, about a dozen men are lined up in a row, with their legs splayed out and their hands in the air in jumping jack position. The officers hit them while forcing them to repeat “I am a thief.”
Another piece of footage shows a group of men with their heads pressed to the ground, forced by guards to spank themselves.
The last two videos are more violent. They show guards--this time in plains clothes-- using batons to beat men who are physically restrained by being tied to trees.
When contacted by FRANCE 24, the journalist who posted these videos, Lazaro Mabunda, said that he had received them from a trustworthy source who prefered to remain anonymous. Mabunda said the videos were filmed in the concession of the Montepuez ruby mine (MRM). This joint-venture was created in 2011 by the British company, Gemfields, which is the majority stakeholder, and Mwiriti Limitada, a local company that has close ties with the the party in power in Maputo.
Our Observer Estacio Valoi is an independent journalist. For almost four years, he has been investigating numerous claims of abuse committed by police officers and private security forces hired to guard the mine and crack down on illegal miners. Valoi says he is certain that the footage was taken near Montepuez.
First, the footage shows numerous holes that have been dug into the earth, which would be typical in area being informally mined (see screengrab below). Secondly, the area shown in the videos is wooded. The area around Montepuez is wooded, but that isn’t the case with all the mines in country.
Finally, the police officers can be heard speaking Portuguese. Moreover, they wear the uniforms of the Mozambican national rapid response unit, which is posted to the area to protect the mine from unlicensed miners.
The only thing that we don’t know for certain is the exact date that these videos were filmed. There are two hypotheses: the first is that it occurred between 2014 and 2015, a time when there were widespread reports of disappearances, shootings and intimidations committed by the security forces against illegal miners. I investigated this spate of violence.
The second theory is that they were filmed earlier this year, when there was a wave of arrests of illegal miners and evictions. [Editor’s note: In February 2017, close to 3,700 unlicesed miners were arrested in just a few weeks, of which two thirds were undocumented immigrants, according to the Mozambican police].
Mozambican officials launch an investigation
The FRANCE 24 Observers team shared these videos with the National Human Rights Commission in Mozambique (CNDH). Custódio Duma, the president of this governmental institution, confirmed that the uniforms in the video were indeed those of the national rapid response unit, but said that he didn’t have any more information about these videos.
The CNDH later sent FRANCE 24 a press release saying that it had joined forces with the public prosecutor and the national police to open an investigation into the violence with the aim of establishing those responsible.
The spokesperson of the national police, Inácio Dina, denounced these “reprehensible acts” and called for a “thorough” investigation when speaking with members of the local press.
Our Observer, however, said there was, sadly, nothing surprising about this footage and that it simply illustrated disturbing practices that have been condemned on many previous occasions.
The background to the current situation in Montepuez is important. In 2009, local people were the first to discover rubies on their land. But news of the discovery quickly leaked and, soon, the proceeds had also left the hands of local people.
Ever since the Montepuez ruby mine (MRM) was created [Editor’s note: In 2012, the Montepuez ruby mine was granted an exclusive licence to exploit the resources in that area], it’s the British company Gemfields that is making a fortune, earning millions of dollars each year by selling these stones. [Editor’s note: In 2016, close to 40% of rubies sold in the world came from Mozambique].
But there’s been no benefits for the local communities. Gemfields promised that the company would contribute to the development of the region by building schools and hospitals. But they didn’t keep their promise. They also said at first that they would provide certain locals with mining licences, with the idea that they could then sell these rubies back to MRM. But, once again, they didn’t do that.
"We opened investigations, uncovered proof and, yet, nothing changed”
In this region, there is a major problem with unemployment and many villagers decided to try their luck at mining even though they didn’t have the proper licenses.
Other miners, some of whom are undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries, were also attracted to the region by the mining boom. In response, the mine is now heavily guarded by private security companies as well as officers from the national police.
It’s not the first time that the use of excessive force against miners or smugglers has been denounced. This time, we have footage. However, in previous instances, I could have had documents from the local hospital confirming acts of violence. We’ve also had complaints filed. Investigations into the matter have already been opened and proof has been unveiled. That said, nothing has changed. The villagers are still seeing the wealth of their land stolen and Gemfields continues to claim that it does not incite violence.
During previous investigations into reports of violence towards illegal miners in the area around the ruby mine, Gemfields defended itself by denying responsibility and saying that “government security personnel are not managed or directed by the Company and have been sent to the area to safeguard national interests.”
Last March, the head of operations at the mine, Gopal Kumar, told the French news agency AFP that they had never encouraged “violent activities”.
“We have a zero tolerance policy to violence,” he said.
According to Agence Ecofin, during the last sale of raw rubies extracted from the Montepuez mine, Gemfields earned around $54.8 million. Since the beginning of 2017, Gemfields has already earned closed to $132.7 million from the sale of precious stones. In comparison, Mozambique was ranked 7th in a list of countries with the worst per capita income.