Soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have sexually abused and exploited vulnerable Somali women and girls on their bases in Mogadishu, Human Rights Watch said in a report released this morning.
The 71-page report, “‘The Power These Men Have over Us’: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by African Union Forces in Somalia,” documents the sexual exploitation and abuse of Somali women and girls on two AMISOM bases in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, since 2013.
It established that AU soldiers, relying on Somali intermediaries, have used a range of tactics, including humanitarian aid, to coerce vulnerable women and girls into sexual activity.
They have also raped or otherwise sexually assaulted women who were seeking medical assistance or water at AMISOM bases.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 21 women and girls who described being raped or sexually exploited by Ugandan or Burundian military personnel serving with the AU forces.
Research was conducted in Somalia, Uganda, and Burundi on incidents in Mogadishu, where Ugandan and Burundian soldiers are present.
All of the Somali women and girls interviewed were from displaced communities from south-central Somalia. In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed over 30 witnesses, foreign observers, military personnel, and officials from troop-contributing countries.
“Some African Union soldiers have misused their positions of power to exploit Somalia’s most vulnerable women and girls,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.
She further implored all troop-contributing countries, the African Union (AU), and donors to AMISOM to urgently address these abuses and strengthen procedures inside Somalia to seek justice.
“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.”
The AU and AMISOM should foster an organizational culture of “zero tolerance” of unlawful activities on their bases, Human Rights Watch said.
They should establish or strengthen instruments and bodies that have responsibility for addressing these abuses, such as conduct and discipline units, and an independent investigative body at the AU level.
Years of conflict and famine in Somalia have displaced tens of thousands of women and girls from their communities, and from their family and clan support networks.
Without employment options and basic resources, many must rely completely on outside assistance and are forced into exploitative and abusive situations to sustain themselves and their children.
The African Union Peace and Security Council deployed AMISOM troops to Somalia in 2007 under a United Nations Security Council mandate, to protect Somali infrastructure and government officials and to contribute to delivering humanitarian assistance.
Since then, AMISOM’s mandate, size, and geographical presence have steadily increased. The force draws its military personnel from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Sierra Leone.
Human rights watch further observes that suggests that sexual exploitation is not a secret at AMISOM’s Mogadishu bases. “The women and girls have entered the camps through official guarded gates and accessed areas that are in theory protected zones,” the report reads.
“The AU military and political leadership needs to do more to prevent, identify, and punish sexual abuse by their troops,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “As another food crisis looms in Mogadishu’s displacement camps, women and girls are once again desperate for food and medicine. They should not have to sell their bodies for their families to survive.”
Some of the women interviewed said they did not report their experiences because they feared reprisals from their attackers, the authorities, and the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabaab, as well as stigma and retribution from their own families.
Countries providing troops to AMISOM are primarily responsible for the conduct of their forces in Somalia and have exclusive jurisdiction over their personnel for any criminal offenses.
These countries have, to varying degrees, established procedures to deal with misconduct including deploying legal advisors and military investigators and, in Uganda’s case, temporarily sending a court martial to Somalia to try cases.
Yet troop-contributing countries have not provided the necessary resources to investigate allegations or made the investigation and prosecution of sexual exploitation and abuse a priority, Human Rights Watch said.
Only one rape case, in which the victim was a child, is before Uganda’s military court in Kampala.