Ugandan and Burundian troops serving under the AMISOM are accused of sexually abusing and exploiting Somali women and girls.
Ugandan and Burundian troops serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are accused of sexually abusing and exploiting Somali women and girls living in their bases in Mogadishu.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a damning report released on Monday, called on the two countries, African Union and donors to address the abuses and strengthen procedures inside Somalia to seek justice.
The 71-page report titled, “The Power These Men Have Over Us: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by African Union Forces in Somalia.”
The report documents the sexual exploitation and abuse of Somali women and girls at two AMISOM bases in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, since 2013.
According to the report, AMISOM troops, through Somali intermediaries, use humanitarian aid to coerce vulnerable women and girls into sex. There were also documented cases of rape and sexual assaults on women seeking medical assistance or water at AMISOM bases.
At least 21 women and girls from displaced communities in south-central Somalia narrated to HRW their ordeals at the hands of Ugandan and Burundian military. Also interviewed were witnesses, foreign observers, military personnel and officials from troop-contributing countries.
Although the research focused on Mogadishu, HRW did not rule out the possibility of abuses occurring elsewhere.
HRW said some soldiers have exploited women’s poverty and lack of food to demand for sex. The watchdog pointed to a case in May last year when a Somali woman identified by a pseudonym of Kassa D. was introduced to a Somali interpreter at AMISOM’s base camp.
“I was worried,” she said. “I wanted to run, but I knew that the same thing that brought me here would get me through this — my hunger. I had made a choice and I could not turn back.” After she had sexual intercourse with a Ugandan soldier, the interpreter paid her $10 (about sh25,000).
Also, several women described being slapped and beaten by soldiers with whom they had sex; while others were infected with sexually transmitted diseases.
Other women said they had gone to the AU camp seeking medicine for their sick babies. Some women did not report their experiences out of fear of reprisals from their abusers, the Somali authorities, al-Shabaab and stigma from their families. Others said they did not want to lose their only source of income.
Liesl Gerntholtz, the HRW women’s rights director, said: “Some African Union soldiers have misused their positions of power to exploit Somalia’s most vulnerable women and girls.”
She added: “Somalia has many intractable problems, but the Somali and AU leadership could end sexual exploitation and abuse by pressing troop-sending countries to hold abusers responsible.”
In some instances, women and girls who had sex with soldiers, received official AMISOM badges that granted them permission to enter the military base.
According to HRW, the respective countries are responsible for the conduct of their troops and have exclusive jurisdiction in case of criminal offences. The watchdog notes that the countries have established procedures to deal with misconduct including deploying legal advisors and military investigators, citing Uganda which in the past sent a court martial to try cases in Somalia.
“The AU can no longer turn a blind eye to the abuses on AMISOM bases, as it is undermining the credibility of the mission,” Gerntholtz said.
“Governments supporting AMISOM should work with the AU to end sexual abuse and exploitation of Somali women and girls by their troops, take action against forces contributing to it and do what they can to prevent further sexual exploitation and abuse of Somali women.”
Maj. Deo Akiiki, the spokesperson for the Ugandan contingent under AMISOM, said a response to the HRW report was being prepared and would come from the special representative of the chairperson of the AU Commission. However, by press time, email inquiries to the AMISOM spokespersons, Eloi Yao and the overall force spokesperson, Col. Ali Aden Houmed, had not been replied.