The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) acted late to take disciplinary action against officers cited in sexual abuse of women in Somalia. It is also wrong for army spokesperson Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, to dismiss reports of the sexual exploitation, as “ a small matter.”
Accusations of sexual abuse of women by peacekeepers are a big deal actually grave. Not less, when made by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global rights watchdog. Not that HRW gets it right all the time, but the world takes their reports very seriously. So claims by HRW that Ugandan and Burundian troops sexually abuse Somali women, should have been promptly probed. As African Union, and UN peacekeepers, no army should abuse the trust placed in them and take aantage of the vulnerable women.
Worse is when peacekeepers lure such women into sexual relationships using food rations, and other inducements, rather than enforce the rule of law, protect those vulnerable civilians, and stop abuse of their human rights. This is why the late reaction by the UPDF is pitiful. Equally lamentable is the light treatment of the accusations by its spokesperson.
Worse, these accusations undercut the solid reputation the UPDF has cultivated as a force for good in both its humanitarian and combat roles in Somalia, since March 2007. But keen watchers of our region would now question our army’s credentials.
Yet several battle groups of the UPDF have valiantly fought against the al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia with distinction. So nothing should weaken this good reputation of the UPDF in peacekeeping and peace enforcement roles.
Nonetheless, Chief of Defence Forces Gen Katumba Wamala took the right step to order some UPDF officers investigated and barred from future redeployment in Somalia. But this came weeks too late after African Union Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, had sent a team to enquire about the allegations.
No doubt, the UPDF is in order to extend these investigations into a wider appraisal of our forces in Somalia. Nevertheless, this delayed move does not lessen the damage caused by accusations of exchange of food for sex with defenceless women.
The UPDF handlers should have known best practice in crisis management demands prompt response. The UPDF should have been more judicious, taken active interest in the HRW report, quickly got hold of it, read with enthusiasm, and reacted promptly.
This would have informed its quick investigation, and evidence-based prosecution of its 15 officers and men, linked to the crimes. As it is now, more should be done to get to the bottom of the issue, and safeguard the image of the UPDF.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor