A contingent of the Ugandan soldiers returning from the Central African Republic (CAR) are being accused of having sexually exploited or abused at least 13 women and girls since 2015.
A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says at least one rape was registered. In a statement issued by its Nairobi office, HRW says it interviewed 13 women and 3 girls early this year.
The Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers had been deployed in CAR since 2009 as part of the African Union's Regional Task Force to eliminate the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels.
In April this year, the ministry of defence announced the withdrawal of UPDF troops from CAR, saying the mission to neutralise the LRA had been successfully achieved.
The women and girls claimed the abuse by Ugandan soldiers has been on since 2010 in the southeastern town of Obo, where Ugandan forces were based.
Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch says as counter-LRA operations wind down, the UPDF should not ignore allegations of sexual exploitation and rape by its soldiers in the Central African Republic.
He wants Ugandan and African Union authorities to conduct proper investigations, punish those responsible, and make sure that the women and girls who were sexually abused or exploited get the services they need.
Fifteen of the women and girls interviewed according to HRW, said they became pregnant as a result of their involvement with the soldiers. HRW says in each case the soldier who fathered the child left the country and has not provided any support.
The report says in CAR, women and girls often do not report sexual violence or exploitation due to shame, stigma, or fear of retaliation.
In 2016, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported 14 cases of rape by Ugandan forces in CAR, including cases involving victims who were children at the time.
HRW says it has an internal UN report, in which, UN investigators in Obo registered 18 cases of sexual violence or harassment by Ugandan soldiers against women and girls.
According to HRW, investigators also obtained information about 44 women and girls with children fathered by UPDF soldiers. Human Rights Watch says it contacted the Ugandan ministry of defence and veterans affairs about the allegations but the ministry is yet to reply.
Several women and girls told HRW that Ugandan military investigators had interviewed them over the past year, but that there was no follow-up and they had no information about the investigation.
UPDF spokesman, Brigadier Richard Karemire, could not be reached for comment. This is not the first time that UPDF troops deployed outside the country are being accused of sexually exploiting women and girls near their bases.
In 2014, HRW said Ugandan and Burundian military personnel from the AU mission in Somalia had exploited and abused women, including raping those who were seeking water or medical assistance from AMISOM bases.
In 2000, UPDF soldiers returning from neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are said to have fathered over two thousand children. Some of the women later followed their UPDF "husbands" into Uganda.
VICTIMS SPEAK OUT
Seven women and one girl said they knew the name of the Ugandan soldier who had paid them for sex, but the others did not. None of the 15 who had a child as a result of the exploitation knew how to contact the soldier who had abandoned them.
"Claire," 25, said that when she was six months pregnant, the Ugandan soldier who had impregnated her told her he was leaving the following day. "He refused to give me his number in Uganda," she said.
"When I insisted he said, 'What for? You are just going to call and bother me.'"
"Margaret" said that the Ugandan father of her child, born in early 2015, refused to give her his phone number in Uganda. "No, the child is my gift to you," she said he told her. "It will be a souvenir to remember me by."
Six women and girls said Ugandan military personnel had promised to take them to Uganda for a better life in exchange for acting as a soldier's "wife."
A 25-year-old mother of a child from a Ugandan soldier, "Claude," said a Ugandan soldier convinced her to become his "wife" in 2014. "He said he would marry me and take me to Uganda if I accepted to be his 'wife,'" she said. "He said he would give me what I wanted and needed as his 'wife,' so I accepted."
"Rebecca," 22, said she agreed to be a Ugandan soldier's "wife" when she was 17. "He fooled me and he said he would take me to Uganda as his own wife - I believed him," she said.
"I was young and stupid. We were together for a year. Sometimes he would come to the house, sometimes I would go to the base." "Rebecca" had a child with the soldier when she was still 17.
A 21-year-old woman, "Alphonsine," said a Ugandan soldier promised her money, food, and a home in Uganda. Over the course of five years, they had two children together. He abandoned her and the children in November 2015, when he returned to Uganda. "I think about my situation and how I was fooled," she said. "Now it is very difficult for me to find money for food and soap."
30-year-old "Jeanette," who had a child from a Ugandan soldier in 2015, said she had sex with him because she needed money and food. "Now I need more money and food because I have to feed and clothe this child, too."