When South African military investigators and human rights specialists touch down in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) they will, in addition to allegations of assault and torture, also have to investigate claims of sexual assault and paternity.
This was confirmed to defenceWeb today by Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi. Speaking from Kimberley, ahead of next week’s Armed Forces Day events, he said “the South African team will work with UN investigators on all the allegations”.
Initially it appeared soldiers from 5 SA Infantry Battalion based at MONUSCO FIB (Force Intervention Brigade) forward bases were the only South Africans suspected of wrongdoing. It has now come to light the soldiers apparently assaulted a 17-year-old Congolese youth after he was caught on two different occasions attempting to steal rations from a forward base in eastern Kasai province.
News agency reports from New York have it that South African and UN investigators will conduct a joint probe of four misconduct allegations in Kasai and North Kivu provinces. One is the youth subjected to alleged “physical violence” in eastern Kasai, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The other three allegations concern sexual exploitation of women in Beni, Goma and Sake in DRC’s North Kivu. One of the women apparently gave birth and is seeking child support.
Mgobozi said the South Africans would work closely with UN personnel in examining all aspects of the allegations in view of them being seen in “a serious light” by SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Solly Shoke.
“Our team will provide feedback to South Africa as soon as they have the necessary information,” he said, adding “those responsible will be dealt with in terms of the Military Disciplinary Code and the SANDF Code of Conduct”.
UN regulations stipulate it is the responsibility of troop contributing countries to prosecute their nationals accused of crimes while serving under the UN flag. Suitably qualified UN personnel work alongside those sent by the troop contributing country, in this case South Africa, to investigate allegations and gather evidence and statements.
The investigation into the assault, sexual exploitation and paternity incidents is expected to be completed in 90 days.
As part of its commitment to preventing incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation, both the UN and the SANDF ensure soldiers heading for continental deployment have undergone SEA (sexual exploitation and abuse) guidance ahead of departure. Troops bound for Operation Mistral in the DRC also have SEA guidance sessions with UN specialist officials at the Mobilisation Centre outside Bloemfontein while those being deployed internally, on Operation Corona for example, are given the necessary guidance by trained SANDF instructors and officers.
SEA training is part and parcel of combat readiness training at unit level and continues through to the Mobilisation Centre and then on to actual deployment where SEA is the responsibility of SANDF Human Resources and Legal Services.
South African troops have previously been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse – this ranges from rape to taking advantage of women or forming relationships, which are seen as abuse of powers. There were seven SEA cases involving South Africans reported in 2015, five in 2016 and two in the first quarter of 2017, according to the SANDF.
Other nations peacekeepers have also faced sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, particularly in the Central African Republic.