Djibouti women go on hunger strike to protest sexual abuse by soldiers

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Nine women from Djibouti who are refugees in France entered the 13th day of a hunger strike on Wednesday over alleged rapes by soldiers in the tiny Horn of Africa country.

Refusing food but accepting water, apple juice or tea, 10 women launched the action on March 25, with one having to drop out on Friday.

Lying on camp beds at a women’s charity in southern Paris, four of the women said they had been raped by soldiers fighting rebels in their homeland.

“I’m not starving myself for the fun of it,” said 30-year-old Fatou Ambassa, whose cousin Halima died after several soldiers allegedly raped her in 2003 when she was 16.

 Florent Geel, head of the Africa section of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH), accused the Djiboutian army of carrying out “reprisal operations” against civilians seen as sympathetic to the ethnic Afar rebels that have been fighting the government for 25 years.

“Arbitrary arrests, sometimes summary executions, but especially sexual violence,” he said, were aimed at “cutting the civilian population off from the FRUD (Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy) rebellion”.

The government of the former French colony has dismissed the allegations as having “no credibility”.

“Since 1991, no proof has been given to the Djibouti authorities to back these assertions,” a spokesman told AFP.

The Afar people straddle the borders of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The rebels say they are fighting to keep the Afar from being marginalised by the Issa, Djibouti’s other large ethnic group which dominates the regime of longtime strongman Ismail Omar Guelleh.

“We demand that these rapes are recognised as war crimes and that an international investigation is launched,” said Aicha Dabale, spokeswoman in France of an advocacy group supporting the women.

Dabale is the wife of current FRUD president Mohamed Kadamy, but insisted she was not acting in the name of the rebellion.

The advocacy group set up in 1993 says it has recorded 246 accounts of rapes by soldiers, but Dabale said the actual number was likely much greater, with many women being turned away by doctors and lawyers when they tried to report abuses.