Uganda has suspended 15 of its senior military commanders over their conduct in Somalia including allegations of sexual exploitation, the army said Thursday.
The action comes in the wake of a damning report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which accused troops with the internationally-funded African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, of preying on vulnerable women and girls.
“We are doing a general appraisal on performance of the force,” Uganda’s defence and army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told AFP.
“It’s not sexual harassment alone,” he said, but added the concerns were “one aspect we are looking at”.
“Those are allegations. We are investigating. Until the investigations are completed that’s when we will know their involvement (in sexual abuse), but for now they are suspended,” he said.
The spokesman said the suspended officers included two generals.
The 22,000-strong AMISOM force comprises soldiers drawn from six nations, and has been fighting alongside Somali government troops against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab insurgents since 2007.
AMISOM donors include the United Nations, European Union, Britain and the United States.
The Human Rights Watch report quoted several women as saying they had gone to the AMISOM camp seeking medicine for their sick babies, but where then forced to have sex. The vulnerable women largely came from camps in the capital Mogadishu, having fled rural Somalia during a devastating famine in 2011.
AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has already ordered an investigation into the allegations, and the probe is due to be completed by November 30. The pan-African bloc, however, has also accused Human Rights Watch of being unfair and inaccurate, and of undermining peace efforts in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.
HRW researcher Maria Burnett welcomed the Ugandan investigations.
“We are pleased to see that there are a range of investigations into sexual exploitation and abuse within AMISOM,” Burnett said.
“We hope investigations ensure the safety of victims and witnesses, and we look forward to a public report with more details of the enquiries and any prosecutions.”