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CRSV: Mozambican Civil War

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The Mozambican Civil War was fought between 1977 and 1992. Although local dynamics played a significant role, Cold War politics were also a key influence (Schwartz, 2010).

Following its independence from Portuguese rule in 1975, Mozambique was ruled by the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique or the Marxist Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). This governance model was a one-party system.

An anti-communist insurgent group emerged, called the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), in opposition to FRELIMO’s attempts to establish a socialist one-party state. FRELIMO received support from the Soviet Union. RENAMO received the support of Rhodesia and South Africa, who enabled the resistance in order to undermine FRELIMO’s support for militant nationalist organizations in their own territories (Schwartz, 2010). With time, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Malawi were drawn into battle in order to defend their economic interests against attacks by RENAMO (Vines, 1997).

In effect, effectively becoming a proxy war, the Mozambican Civil War ended in 1992, after support from the Soviet Union and South Africa for the FRELIMO and RENAMO, respectively, ended (Schwartz, 2010). The Rome General Peace Accords were signed in 1992. RENAMO units were demobilized and integrated into the Mozambican armed forces. The United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) was set up to support post-conflict reconstruction (Vines, 1997).

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

All parties to the conflict were reported to have committed sexual violence. Areas that were under RENAMO control were especially sites where civilian women were targeted with systematic campaigns of rape and sexual violence (Haeberlin-Lanz, 1996). Reports show that girls as young as 8 years of age were raped and assaulted in front of their families, men and women alike were forced to commit incest, women and girls were forcibly impregnated and/or forced into sexual slavery (Baden, 1997).

Women and girls were especially vulnerable regardless of where they were – ta home, in the fields, and along transport routes. There were several instances of sexual assault where women were targeted with disfigurement and even forced to harm their own children (Baden, 1997). Child soldiers were conscripted and abused sexually (Haeberlin-Lanz, 1996). Women and girls were also trafficked for sexual exploitation (US Department of State, 2005).

Basis of use of Sexual Violence

Both parties to the conflict perpetrated sexual violence. On the one hand, sexual assault and violence were used to intimidate civilian populations and to humiliate women, and by extension, their communities.

In several instances, there were targeted campaigns of trafficking and sexual slavery. In some instances, sexual violence and rape took place out of misguided belief where RENAMO soldiers with sexually transmitted infections believed that their survival depended on raping another woman and to transfer the STI to her (Baden 1997).

In other situations, the breakdown of law and security sector machinery culminated in the rampant prevalence of opportunistic rape and sexual violence. The breakdown in the economic system made many women and girls vulnerable, which in turn led to an increase in survival sex where women and girls resorted to prostitution., especially at the hands of peacekeepers (Baden 1997).


  1. Baden, S. (June 1997) “Post-conflict Mozambique: Women’s Special Situation, Population Issues and Gender Perspectives”, BRIDGE Report 44, 28.

  2. Haeberlin Lanz, C.1996. Reintegration of ex-combatants in Mozambique; Psychological aspects. ILO Project Moz/94/B01, Maputo, April 1996.

  3. Schwartz, Stephanie (2010). Youth and Post-conflict Reconstruction: Agents of Change. Washington, D.C: United States Institute of Peace Press. pp. 34–38.

  4. US Department of State (2005) Trafficking in Persons Report June 2005, 161.

  5. Vines, Alex (1997). Still Killing: Landmines in Southern Africa. New York: Human Rights Watch. pp. 66–71.

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