NAIROBI (Reuters) - African Union soldiers in Somalia have raped and sexually exploited women and girls on their peacekeeping bases in the Somali capital Mogadishu, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday.
The soldiers, relying on Somali intermediaries, have at times targeted women and girls who enter the bases through guarded gates seeking medical assistance or water, the New York-based group said.
The 71-page report, "'The Power These Men Have Over Us': Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by African Union Forces in Somalia," documented 21 cases of sexual exploitation and abuse of displaced females at two bases since 2013.
Just two of the women and girls interviewed by the rights group had filed a complaint.
"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 responsible," said Liesl Gerntholtz, the group's director of women’s rights.
Countries that contribute peacekeeping personnel have exclusive legal jurisdiction over their soldiers.
Somalia has been mired in chaos and conflict since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991. The government is struggling to re-impose order and a new federal structure as it battles Islamist militant group al Shabaab.
The African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, was deployed in 2007. Its uniformed force, which numbers more than 22,000, comes from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sierra Leone.
All of the cases documented in the Human Rights Watch report involved Ugandan or Burundian soldiers. But the researchers said they had not had access to bases staffed by soldiers from other countries and believed the problem was widespread.
In a response to Human Rights Watch, AMISOM head Mahamat Saleh Annadif said that, if the report's findings were true, the mission would have to "double its efforts" to address the situation.
He said the mission was in the process of appointing two conduct and disciplinary officers and a women's protection officer, as well as setting up a "more robust and confidential reporting mechanism" for victims of misconduct.
AMISOM officials could not be reached by Reuters for comment on the report.
(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Edmund Blair)