Cabo Delgado & Upholding Bloc Commitments: ZNA Assignment to Mozambique, International Law and the SADC Protocol

By O'brian Munashe Gutu

In a previous article (Cabo Delgado atrocities: A call for humanitarian regulation, dated 16 April 2021), I outlined the human rights violations in relation to the extremist raids and armed conflict in Mozambique. The article was a call for international peace keeping organizations and the Southern Africa Development Committee (SADC) in particular to ensure human rights are protected while international humanitarian law (IHL) is implemented in the Northern region of Palma, Mozambique. 

After observing recent developments surrounding Zimbabwe’s long-awaited input towards peace and stability, the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) is set to join South Africa, Rwanda and Botswana troops in the neighboring country. Among other duties, the Zimbabwean army has been tasked to train fellow armed forces of Mozambique and to proffer strategic assistance to the Mozambican army  in their bid to stop the sporadic terrorist attacks  that have led to 3,000 fatalities and the displacement of citizens in the range of 800,000 (half in the statistics being children). It is within this sudden deployment of 304 Zimbabwe troops that this excerpt assumes weight.

Bloc commitments

Every country owes an international duty to contribute towards world peace and stability. Moreover, this obligation gets more compelling when the region in which a country/member state is situated in experiences terrorist attacks. More often than not, armed conflicts in the south of the Sahara have resulted in a spillover effect, leading to heated military frontiers developing in neighboring states (Nigeria and Niger – Boko Haram conflict) or concentration of sovereign defence forces (DR Congo Civil war – Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, and Rwanda took part in the war) in solidarity  to enforce law and order (stability). Extremism in Mozambique is a cause for concern for Zimbabwe especially on the eastern parts close to Mozambique. Understanding the spillover effect of armed conflict of this nature, it was high time Zimbabwe, by virtue of section 213(3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, weighs into the protracted military efforts.

The SADC Protocol and the Mutual Defence Pact

Signed in 2001, the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation is a legally binding treaty to which Zimbabwe is a party. In solidifying the commitment, the state parties to the protocol reaffirmed their commitment through the SADC Mutual Defence Pact with a thrust in conflict resolution. Zimbabwe, being a party to the protocol and in terms of Section 327(1) of the supreme law [Constitution], owes a reciprocal peace keeping duty to fellow state members in the SADC body especially in times of hostilities such as the one led by Al Shabab jihadists in Northern Mozambique. Article 2 of the SADC protocol provides that, the region has a mandate to intervene whenever a conflict arises, which conflict may lead to regional instability. However, the fundamental international law principle of non-interference [that sovereignty is sacrosanct) owed much to the region’s hesitance towards deployment of troops into Mozambique. The imminence of another catastrophic attack has however led to a mutual agreement that the SADC body assigns peacekeeping troops to ensure law and order . Be that as it may, the ZNA deployment and fellow SADC troops are not exempted from the guidelines of international humanitarian law in both their functions and operations.

The role of SADC and International humanitarian law (IHL)

The SADC Security Organ has developed more as an administrative body than a military one since its inception in 1992. Most of its military ventures have resulted to massive looting and pillaging of resources in the conflict zones or host countries. While a few  positives have been noted (considering that Southern Africa is relatively a peaceful region in Africa), there is need for military intervention that focuses on protecting fundamental human rights during armed conflict. The Geneva Conventions, the Hague laws and the Roman Statute [governing the International Criminal Court] prohibit the extraction of resources in host countries.

It is therefore imperative that the SADC body on Peace and Security ought to operate within the confines of IHL frameworks. International customary law Rule 52 makes pillaging a punishable offence under the Roman Statute and thus, the SADC Standby office ought to operate in a legal manner with respect for IHL in the counter terrorism efforts in order to avoid harm to civilians, protected public properties such as religious centers, hospitals and schools.


The civil society call for intervention by SADC has been finally heed and the fact that Zimbabwe has contributed its troops signals commitment towards a peaceful Southern Africa. This is key in so far as upholding treaties and regional policy is concerned since, instability in Mozambique creates a recipe for instability in Zimbabwe.

Munashe O’brian Gutu is a Law student at the University of Zimbabwe. He blogs in his personal capacity.

Twitter @barrister_gutu

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