WESTERN-BACKED AU FORCE DOWNPLAYS CHARGE OF RAPE

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Sep. 8 (GIN) – A U.S. drone war on the insurgency in Somalia has overlooked the war on women – specifically the abuse, rapes and attacks on women and girls by AMISOM - the African Union Mission in Somalia, a new report by Human Rights Watch has disclosed.

In its reported titled “The Power These Men Have Over Us,” the NY-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) spoke with 21 women and girls who described being gang-raped or sexually exploited by Ugandan or Burundian military personnel serving with the AU forces. “Some Amisom soldiers have used humanitarian assistance, provided by the mission, to coerce vulnerable women and girls into sexual activity.

Twenty-four other witnesses, international actors as well as officials of the military courts, and other military personnel in Uganda and Burundi responded to questions. Interviews with survivors were conducted on an individual basis and were unpaid.

“Our research uncovered cases of rape, exploitation, and other forms of abuse. Several cases of rape or attempted rape were against children,” HRW wrote in its searing report, adding: “We are particularly concerned that a significant number of the abuses occurred when the individuals initially came to the bases looking for help for sick children or relatives.”

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.

The 22,000 African Union force, called AMISOM, with soldiers drawn from six nations, has been fighting alongside government troops against the insurgent al-Shabab fighters since 2007.

After viewing the report, AMISOM questioned the findings, saying the alleged rapes were "isolated" incidents and calling the charges "unbalanced and unfair".

Burundian General Silas Ntigurirwa, AMISOM's commander, also downplayed "allegations of isolated cases of rape", and said that his troops were given strict orders against raping and looting.

HRW criticized troop-contributing countries for not providing the necessary resources to investigate allegations or make the investigation and prosecution of sexual exploitation and abuse a priority. Only one rape case, in which the victim was a child, is before Uganda's military court in Kampala.

"The findings raise serious concerns about abuses by AMISOM soldiers against Somali women and girls that suggest a much larger problem," HRW said. "The AU military and political leadership needs to do more to prevent, identify, and punish sexual abuse by their troops," Daniel Bekele, HRW Africa head, said.

W/PIX OF AMISOM COMMANDER GEN. SILAS NTIGURIRWA

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