Eleven of 16 South African soldiers who attacked a teenager 11 months ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ended have been found guilty of assault.
According to a SA National Defence Force (SANDF) statement the attack, branded an assault on “a 17-year-old Congolese citizen” took place on January 30 this year in Mbuji-Mayi in the Kasai Oriental province, DRC, where members of Alpha Company of 5 SA Infantry Battalion were deployed as part of the FIB (Force Intervention Brigade) of Operation Mistral”.
“Three South African soldiers caught a male Congolese citizen, aged 17, suspected of stealing plastic basins and buckets belonging to South African soldiers and took him into the military base where he was assaulted, sustaining a minor wound as a result.
“The incident was immediately reported to the authorities for full scale investigation.
“On completion of the investigation 16 soldiers were charged. They included the then acting company commander, two platoon commanders, five non-commissioned officers and eight riflemen,” SANDF director: corporate communications Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said in a statement.
The 16 accused were charged with contravening section four of the Prevention of Combating and Torture of Persons Act (Act 13 of 2013), obstructing the course of justice and contravening sections of the Military Discipline Code dealing with absent without official leave (AWOL) and riotous or unseemly behaviour.
The trial started in Sake in the DRC on June 12 and a decision was taken to move legal proceedings to South Africa on June 23. The venue decided on was Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal, where 5 SAI is based.
All the accused and trial officials were brought to South Africa at the end of June with the trial resuming in the KwaZulu-Natal town on September 17. The final court sitting ran from October 15 to November 2.
Eleven of the 16 originally charged were found guilty of common law assault and the other five acquitted. No indication is given of the sentence handed down or if it still has to be handed down.
Mgobozi said that even though the Prevention of Combating and Torture of Persons Act was not used in the court’s decision it “clears the way” for future applications of the 2013 Act.
The trial, Mgobozi said, was “historic” and ground breaking” because it was the first time the national defence force employed the Prevention of Combating and Torture of Persons Act.
SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke welcomed the successful conviction saying the good name of South African peacekeepers in the DRC would not be tarnished. He also again pointed out the SANDF will never tolerate crime or criminals in its ranks and will act against “those who display this behaviour”.