UN alarmed by widespread rape in Mogadishu

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative for Somalia on Friday voiced his concern at the increasing number of rape cases in the country’s war-torn capital, Mogadishu.

“Sexual violence and rape are part of the game now,” Christian Balslev-Olesen said at a press briefing on the deteriorating access to health in Mogadishu.

“We had not seen the level and kind of open violence against civilian populations that we are seeing now,” he said, citing several instances of women being raped at checkpoints in broad daylight.

All parties involved in the conflict are involved in sexual violence, although aid workers on the ground said rapes were mainly committed by government militias and their Ethiopian allies.

“The people who were not able to leave Mogadishu seem to be in a situation that we have never, ever seen in the past 16 to 17 years,” the Unicef official said.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the fighting in Mogadishu in recent months, leaving six out of 16 districts in the capital almost completely empty.

Waves of displaced people are flooding nearby camps and seeking shelter with relatives across the country, but those who stay behind are facing unprecedented abuses and violence.

Unicef noted that children were increasingly at risk, with 80% of all schools closed in Mogadishu.

The UN agency also said that children were being recruited by government militias and Islamist insurgents alike, thus making them “legitimate targets” in the conflict.

Any movement inside Mogadishu exposes civilians to deadly risks, and the multiplication of checkpoints manned by extortionist government militias and warlords in and around the city are making any bid to flee equally perilous.

Checkpoints have also greatly impeded civilians’ access to health, leaving victims of shelling and other fighting unable to receive medical assistance.

“People bleed to death in their houses,” said one aid worker.

“We are therefore appealing to everyone involved in this conflict to allow women and children safe passage across the city so that they can access basic, life-saving medical services,” Balslev-Olesen said.

Ethiopian troops last year came to the rescue of the transitional Somali government and defeated an Islamist militia that briefly controlled large parts of the country.

The Islamist movement’s remnants have since reverted to urban guerrilla tactics, launching hit-and-run attacks in Mogadishu, which have drawn a heavy government response.—AFP

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