Abdifitah Hashi Nor / AFP / Getty Images

Report: African Union soldiers raped, sexually exploited Somali women

Human Rights Watch report says alleged abusers used intermediaries to gain private access to Somali women and abuse them

Soldiers from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have raped and sexually abused Somali women and girls as young as 12 and exploited those who sought medical assistance or water at their bases in Mogadishu, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a damning report released Monday.

The 71-page report, titled "The Power These Men have Over Us," was based in part on 21 interviews with survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation, and documented 10 incidents of rape or sexual assault and 14 cases of sexual exploitation since 2013. The incidents include one in which a 12-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a Ugandan soldier in May 2013. 

The 22,000-person AMISOM force, with soldiers drawn from six nations, has been fighting alongside Somali government troops against the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab armed group since 2007. AMISOM donors include the United Nations, European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The cases investigated by HRW involved troops from Burundi and Uganda. The report indicated that the alleged abusers used “Somali intermediaries” to “get private access to Somali women and then abuse them.” 

“Some AMISOM soldiers have used humanitarian assistance, provided by the mission, to coerce vulnerable women and girls into sexual activity,” the report read. “A number of the women and girls interviewed for this report said that they were initially approached for sex in return for money or raped while seeking medical assistance and water on the AMISOM bases, particularly the Burundian contingent’s base.” 

Other victims, the report said, were “enticed directly” from internally displayed persons camps to start working on the bases by female friends and neighbors, “some of whom were already working on the base.” 

“Some of the women who were raped said that the soldiers gave them food or money afterwards in an apparent attempt to frame the assault as transactional sex or discourage them from filing a complaint or seeking redress,” the report said. 

Only in two cases had the women who spoke to HRW filed police complaints, because they "feared stigma, reprisals from family, police, and the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabab."

Women also reported contracting sexually transmitted infections, mainly gonorrhea, after the assaults, with soldiers refusing to wear condoms.

"Several also described being slapped and beaten by the soldiers with whom they had sex," HRW added.

HRW said that the “findings raise serious concerns about abuses by AMISOM soldiers against Somali women and girls that suggest a much larger problem.”

However, AMISOM commander and Burundian General Silas Ntigurirwa said the report documented "allegations of isolated cases of rape,” and that his troops were given strict orders against raping and looting. AMISOM spokesman Eloi Yao added that the "allegations will be properly investigated and measures taken."

But HRW Africa head Daniel Bekele said, "The AU military and political leadership needs to do more to prevent, identify, and punish sexual abuse by their troops.” 

"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,” Bekele added.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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