SANDF recalls eight soldiers from UN peacekeeping duty in DRC to answer sex abuse charges
Eight soldiers arrested in DRC have returned to South Africa to answer to ‘sexual abuse and exploitation’ allegations.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has recalled eight of its soldiers who were detained this month by the United Nations in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for “sexual abuse and exploitation”.
The SANDF said it had received a UN report containing allegations of “serious acts of ill-discipline and misconduct” by the SANDF soldiers deployed in DRC as peacekeepers as part of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO.
“Due to the serious nature of the allegations, the SANDF took a decision to recall the implicated soldiers back to South Africa to answer to the allegations and to give account of events that transpired on Sunday, 1 October 2023 in Beni,” an SANDF statement said.
“Furthermore, National Investigating Officers have been dispatched to the MONUSCO deployment area to conduct a formal investigation. Upon completion of the investigation, the SANDF will pronounce itself.”
It added that the UN report alleged that UN Military Police had apprehended the eight soldiers on 1 October 2023 “for being in direct breach of the curfew time and other regulations related to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse”.
The SANDF also said it was unfortunate that the UN had not informed South Africa, as a troop-contributing country (TCC) of the allegations as is normal procedure and that South Africa had first learnt about them in the media.
“The reporting procedure was not followed by the United Nations because the RSA Defence Advisor nor the RSA United Nations Representative were not informed as per the Standard Operating Procedure for all TCCs.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: SANDF soldiers detained or suspended for alleged sex crimes and UN violations in DRC
‘Immediate and robust’ response
MONUSCO said in a statement this week that it had taken “immediate and robust action in response to reports of serious misconduct by UN peacekeepers”.
These “initial measures include suspension from duty, detention, and confinement to quarters of concerned peacekeepers, pending receipt of additional information on the allegations, including through the conduct of a full-fledged investigation”.
MONUSCO said these measures had been taken in line with the UN Secretary General’s “zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of misconduct”.
The UN statement did not provide details of the alleged offences, but according to French news agency AFP, internal MONUSCO reports alleged that the charges related to bars and brothels – named Soweto, Bloemfontein and Cape Town – which had sprung up near the MONUSCO base at Mavivi, near Beni.
Another report in Africanews added that the MONUSCO documents said that “makeshift bars in front of the MONUSCO Mavivi base, near Beni, are used for transactional sexual relations”.
It also reported that an SANDF officer had “intimidated and verbally threatened UN personnel” following the arrest of the peacekeepers over the brothels.
This resulted in an attempted escape, a brawl, and a chase by members of the UN military police.
The SANDF did not say in its statement how the eight soldiers would have to answer for their alleged offences. Last week Democratic Alliance spokesperson Kobus Marais demanded that they should be brought before a military court. DM