The “serious nature” of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) allegations against South African soldiers on peacekeeping duty in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has seen the United Nations (UN) “immediately” repatriate those allegedly involved back to South Africa.
Reports have it eight South African soldiers based in Beni were arrested on 1 October and an officer suspended in connection with “fraternising after curfew hours, at an out-of-bounds bar known to be a place where transactional sex occurs”.
A Friday (13 October) statement from Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, notes “robust action” in the wake of the allegations adding “the UN has decided to immediately repatriate the nine contingent members and one senior military officer and requested the replacement of two other senior military officers”. The statement further points out a “serious failure observed in the exercise of command and control”.
The UN statement further reads “a senior South African military officer reportedly attempted to hinder the investigation [into the alleged SEA incidents] and threatened mission (MONUSCO) personnel, while two other senior South African military officers reportedly failed to properly exercise their responsibilities in the command of their personnel”.
South African authorities have, the statement adds, notified been notified and indicated full co-operation, including “deployment of a national investigation officer”.
“MONUSCO,” the statement closes, “remains firmly committed to ensuring adherence to the UN’s standards of conduct and robustly enforcing the Secretary-General’s policy of zero tolerance towards SEA”.
South African Department of Defence Head of Communication Siphiwe Dlamini on Sunday 15 October confirmed that “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, 01 October 2023 in Beni. Furthermore, National Investigating Officers (NIOs) have been dispatched to the MONUSCO deployment area to conduct a formal investigation.”
Dlamini added that “it is unfortunate that the RSA, as a Troop Contributing Country (TCC) was not informed of these allegations as is normal procedure but first learnt about such 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 TCC’s.”