Somalia : Sexual Abuse by
African Union Soldiers


AMISOM troops patrolling the Zona-K
camp for displaced people in Mogadishu’s
Hodan district in June 2012.
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 today.
Troop-contributing countries, the
African Union (AU), and donors to
AMISOM should urgently address these
abuses and strengthen procedures inside
Somalia to seek justice.
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.
The 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
“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. “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
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.
Human Rights Watch conducted
research in Somalia, Uganda, and
Burundi . 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. The research focused on
incidents in Mogadishu, where Ugandan
and Burundian soldiers are present and
does not preclude the possibility that
similar abuses have occurred elsewhere.
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 the peace support
troops known as AMISOM 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
Women and girls seeking assistance at
AMISOM camps in Mogadishu do so at
significant risk, Human Rights Watch
found. For instance, in late 2013, Qamar
R. (not her real name), 15, went to the
Burundian contingent’s base to get
medicine for her sick mother. A Somali
interpreter told her to follow two
Burundian soldiers to get medicine.
They took her to a remote area and one
of the soldiers raped her. She told
Human Rights Watch: “First he ripped
off my hijab and then he attacked me.”
As she was leaving, the second
Burundian soldier gave her US$10.
Some soldiers have exploited women’s
poverty and lack of food for sex. In May
2013, 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 couldn’t turn back
now.” After she had sexual intercourse
with a Ugandan soldier, the interpreter
paid her $10.
The UN secretary-general’s 2003 bulletin
on special measures for protection from
sexual exploitation and sexual abuse is a
groundbreaking policy document for UN
peacekeeping missions. It explicitly
prohibits peacekeepers from exchanging
any money, goods, or services for sex.
Evidence suggests that sexual
exploitation is not a secret at AMISOM’s
Mogadishu bases, Human Rights Watch
said. The women and girls have entered
the camps through official guarded gates
and accessed areas that are in theory
protected zones. Two women told
Human Rights Watch that the soldiers
they had sex with for money gave them
official AMISOM badges to facilitate
their entry to the base.
“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
AMISOM soldiers have also subjected
women and girls to other abuses and
exposed them to serious health risks,
Human Rights Watch said. Several
women described being slapped and
beaten by the soldiers with whom they
had sex. Others said that soldiers had
refused to wear condoms, passing on
sexually transmitted infections.
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. Others told Human
Rights Watch they were reluctant to lose
their only source of income. As a result,
Human Rights Watch could not draw
conclusions about the extent of the
problem or official levels of
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
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.
AMISOM’s leadership has taken some
measures to address sexual and gender-
based violence, including drafting a
policy on prevention and response to
sexual exploitation and abuse, and doing
outreach. However, more should be
done to ensure that these efforts
provide justice for victims, Human
Rights Watch said.
The AU force, along with the UN and the
Somali government, should adopt
measures to prevent sexual exploitation
and abuse while creating an
environment in which women can come
forward and report abuses. Troop-
contributing countries should reinforce
their investigative and prosecutorial
capacities inside Somalia. They also
should ensure, along with AMISOM and
the UN, that survivors receive adequate
medical and psychosocial care and
protection, particularly during
investigations and prosecutions.
International donors, particularly the
United Nations, European Union, United
States, and United Kingdom should
support greater independent oversight
of the conduct of AU troops and civilian
personnel and ensure that they are not
complicit in abuses committed by
AMISOM forces, Human Rights Watch
“The AU can no longer turn a blind eye
to the abuses on AMISOM bases, as its
undermining the very 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.”by human rights


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