Allegations that a group of African Union soldiers brutally gang-raped a Somali woman earlier this month has reportedly left many outraged in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, prompting protestors and women's rights activists to demand justice.
The Agence France-Presse reports that a Somali woman has accused a group of soldiers from both the Somali national army and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) of abducting, drugging and "repeatedly" raping her.
According to the BBC, the woman is still recovering from the horrific incident in the hospital.
Leadership of AMISOM -- the 17,700-strong African Union force of soldiers from Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda that supports the Somali government -- announced this week that it has launched an investigation into the matter and promised that "appropriate action will be taken once the facts of the case have been established."
"The AU mission strongly condemns any incidents of alleged sexual abuse or exploitation and takes the issue extremely serious as it reiterates the mission commitment to enhancing the safety of women and indeed protecting all Somali citizens," a statement released Wednesday reads.
Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon has also vowed to "ensure that such crimes do not occur again," according to the BBC.
For years, violence against women, including rape and sexual abuse, has been a widespread problem in Somalia, where female genital mutilation is still fairly common. In 2011, the New York Times reported that the United Nations had received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence over a two month span from female residents in Mogadishu alone.
With many displaced people still living in camps following the country's years of conflict and the 2011 famine, activists say that those numbers continue to remain at alarming levels. In 2012, for instance, the UN recorded 1,700 rapes in the capital's 500 camps, per the BBC.
Troublingly, since Somali women fear reprisals from reporting rape or sexual abuse, this number is likely also an underestimate.
In January, a 27-year-old woman in Mogadishu who reported that government security forces had raped her was convicted with the criminal charge of "insulting a state institution." The journalist who interviewed her was also arrested. They were both sentenced to a year in prison but have since been released.
In response to the shocking charges, Fartuun Adan, director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, wrote this in a blog post in February:
This case has sent us all a chilling message that women who dare to report abuse risk this young woman's fate: abusive police interrogations without a lawyer, police threats and intimidation to recant the allegation, public shaming before our country's media, and then an unfair trial capped by a prison term […]
This case is serious step back for us.