In 50 interviews with victims and survivors across Somalia, Human Rights Watch paints a grim, if contested, portrait of how the elements in the African Union Mission (Amisom) forces have raped and sexually assaulted dozens of women.
Victims and survivors speak about 10 separate incidents of rape and 14 cases of sexual exploitation, documented by HRW. The report, titled “The Power These Men Have Over Us”, was released on Monday in Nairobi, Kenya. But Amisom describes the report, which mostly accuses Ugandan and Burundian forces, as largely ‘inaccurate’.
One of the harrowing tales was that of Ayanna. As she told HRW, Ayanna went to the Burundian base to get medicine for her sick baby. A Somali interpreter there told her to go back without the child. When she returned, he called her and three other young women over to a fenced area where six soldiers were waiting.
The soldiers, at gunpoint, dragged them into a bunker, beat and raped them, leaving one badly hurt.
“We carried the injured woman home. Three of us walked out of the base carrying her… She couldn’t stand,” Ayanna is quoted as having told HRW. “They gave us porridge, cookies and five dollars but they didn’t say anything to us. They threw the items at us and a bag to put them in.”
Qamar, 15, claimed she went to the Burundian base to get medicine for her sick mother. While there, an interpreter told her to follow the two soldiers who would give her the medicine, but she was raped instead.
“First he ripped off my hijab and then he attacked me,” she told researchers.
As she was leaving, the second soldier waved her over and gave her $10, approximately Shs 22,500=. Deka was raped by a Burundian soldier when she went to the base to pick medicine. “While in line [for medicine], an interpreter approached me and said he wanted to introduce me to a senior Burundian military officer who would be able to help me,” she said.
“He [officer] gave me his number, told me to come back wearing a burqa. He introduced me to a Burundian man of about 40 or 50, then left me alone in a room.
My baby was given toys to play with. The man undressed himself and we had sex the baby cried twice and the soldier seemed annoyed by it. When it was finished, I received my medication, $10 and some food. On later visits I saw six other Somali women there – about six regulars aged 15 to 24,” she said.
For some women, such as Kassa, 19, they traded sex for food. But on the fateful day, she did not want sex because she had a sore tooth.
“I tried to explain to him using hand gestures but he became infuriated and forced me to perform the act anyway,” she said. “I felt so scared and thought he would shoot me with his pistol.”
The youngest victim in the cases investigated was a 12-year-old girl in the outskirts of Baidoa in May 2013 who was allegedly raped by a Ugandan soldier. According to court-martial officials in Uganda, there is a rape case of a minor before Uganda’s military courts, but it is not clear if this is the same case. Her mother said that her daughter was raped by a Ugandan peacekeeper.
“She wore a sako [long robe] and jeans under it. After tearing the jeans, he raped her he cut her vagina, he wounded her very badly. We don’t know if he made that cut with the knife or just with himself.”
She added that people laugh at her, whenever she comes out: “They say: ‘An infidel raped her.’ They say, ‘A Ugandan soldier raped her.’ How can you feel if your daughter asks you: ‘Mother, why do I live? Mother, do I deserve to live? Mother, I better die to hide my shameful face from the people’.”
The 71-page report urges the Amisom leadership to hold onsite court martial and background checks on soldiers who are deployed there.
In a statement, Lydia Wanyoto, Amisom’s deputy head of mission, said on Monday that the allegations do not define the character, organizational culture and management of the AU mission, currently one of the largest peace support operations in the world.
“These allegations will be thoroughly investigated, and appropriate measures will be taken if they are found to be true, through the relevant mechanisms that have been developed by the AU to prevent and respond to issues of misconduct and abuse in peace support operations, in accordance with the AU’s zero-tolerance policy on this matter,” she said.
She added: “Firstly, the HRW report uses a small number of cases to arrive at a generalized conclusion. The HRW report claims that it has documented 21 alleged cases of sexual exploitation and rape. It further states that a single soldier carried out most of these acts. The generalization contained in the report does not reflect the highest professional standards with which the overwhelming majority of Amison uniformed personnel have continued to discharge their responsibilities”.
Gen Katumba Wamala, the chief of defence forces, said “I think what has been achieved by our African forces was unprecedented and Human Right Watch reports are divisive, but we have reported to the AU and they are going to respond to them [HRW],” Katumba said.
He criticized the authors of the report for failing to identify particular soldiers alleged to have raped women so that they can be investigated and punished if found guilty.
Source : The Observer