The African Union dismissed a report accusing AU forces in Somalia of sexually abusing and exploiting vulnerable women and girls from their bases in Mogadishu as unfounded, deficient and inaccurate.
The 71-page report, “‘The Power These Men Have over Us’: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by African Union Forces in Somalia,” was released by Human rights watch yesterday.
It documents the sexual exploitation and abuse of Somali women and girls on two AMISOM bases in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, since 2013.
In the report, HRW stated that 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.
But The African Union Secretariat in response stated that the allegations as raised in the report do not define the character, organizational culture and management of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), currently one of the largest peace support operations in the world.
The AU faults Human Rights Watch for using a small number of cases to arrive at a generalized conclusion and argues that the generalization contained in the report does not reflect the highest professional standards with which the overwhelming majority of AMISOM uniformed personnel have continued to discharge their responsibilities.
The report documented 21 alleged cases of sexual exploitation and rape.
“It is contradictory that the HRW makes sweeping general assertions about AMISOM culpability yet admits that its research did not exhaustively interrogate the scale and prevalence of these allegations,” the report reads.
The AU explains that although the allegations will be thoroughly investigated, “the portrayal of the Mission and the general conclusions drawn from the allegations against it, as reflected in the title of the HRW report, constitute a misrepresentation of the sacrifices, achievements and genuine commitment of AMISOM and the Troop and Police Contributing Countries… in their quest for sustainable peace, security, stability and reconciliation in Somalia.”
This year, AMISOM has recovered more than 14 new areas from the Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Al Shabaab, and opened up Main Supply Routes (MSRs) for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to areas that had been unreachable by humanitarian agencies for extended periods of time.
The body lists a number of internal mechanisms that have been established to prevent, mitigate and discipline personnel that may have committed sexual exploitation and abuse in AMISOM and in other AU’s peace operations.
“These preventive measures include pre-deployment training for all AMISOM uniformed personnel before their deployment into the Mission area.
Robust training packages cover Sexual Exploitation and abuse, gender-based violence, obligations with regard to International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law and International Refugee Law, amongst others.
Such training also includes AMISOM Military Rules of Engagement and Police Guidelines on Use of Firearms as they relate to women, children and other vulnerable groups.
“AMISOM has also established mitigating measures such as the institution of a Board of Inquiry (BoI), at both contingent and headquarters levels, and the establishment of a Disciplinary Board, especially where there are alleged cases of sexual harassment by AMISOM national and internationally recruited personnel,” it adds.
A 2012 Report by an Independent Panel of Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, which was constituted by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva, departs from the assessment and conclusions of the HRW report regarding AMISOM compliance with the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.
The Experts’ report notes that “Regular training of AMISOM forces on humanitarian and human rights laws had yielded positive results, including in regard to the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence.”