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Zero tolerance for sexual abuse by SA peacekeepers in the DRC

SA soldiers atop a Mamba.The United Nations has a zero tolerance policy towards sexual exploitation and abuse by South African peacekeepers with the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but nevertheless nine cases were reported against South African soldiers last year and four in 2018.

The matter of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) was raised during a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on 2 March, when it was heard that incidents are regularly reported by South Africa, unlike a number of other countries serving with the mission.

According to Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, Director Defence Corporate Communication at the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), the Unite Nations reported nine alleged sexual exploitation and abuse cases to South Africa in 2017 and four alleged SEA cases in 2018.

This compares to seven SEA cases involving South Africans reported in 2015 and five in 2016.

South African soldiers deployed continentally have been implicated in SEA incidents, ranging from rape to taking advantage of women or forming relationships, which are seen as abuse of powers.

Addressing the committee earlier this month, Major General Mlandeli Kula, Chief Director: Joint Operation Division SANDF, said that according to UN norms and principles, peacekeepers cannot be involved in a relationship with local whether consent is obtained or not and the UN has a zero tolerance approach in this regard.

He said a soldier could be withdrawn from mission if he was found to have been involved in sexual abuse or exploitation, or entering into a relationship, and military judges or legal teams have been deployed to uphold standards.

Kula said it was problematic that not all the SEA incidents involved outright abuse or exploitation, as many of them were consensual relationships involving unmarried soldiers. He said the SANDF was trying to find a way of dealing with that type of situation.

The committee heard that deploying the same SANDF troops to the DRC is “problematic,” as whether soldiers are deployed for three or six or twelve months, the same soldiers are recycled. Force Intervention Brigade soldiers are deployed to the DRC for one year but were previously deployed for six months after the UN changed its policy to save resources, although pilots and doctors are deployed for three months.

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is one record as saying “We must all hang our heads in shame that some of our soldiers have been found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). One case of SEA is one case too many. The reverberations it causes throughout the contingent and image it gives our country reverses the gains we have made over the entire period of almost two decades we have been involved in peace missions.”

South African soldiers receive SEA guidance ahead of and during all SANDF deployments, and it is an integral component of training.

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