The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said it is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by its soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as five soldiers are facing paternity tests for the children of four women and a girl who say they were sexually exploited by them in eastern Congo between 2014 and 2016.
Four of the incidents concerned sexually exploitative relations with adults and the fifth concerned the sexual abuse of a minor, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric was cited as saying late on Tuesday in a transcript sent to Reuters on Wednesday.
Sexually exploitative relations usually refers to paying for sex with women from vulnerable communities, but UN peacekeeping regulations prohibit soldiers from forming any relationship with local citizens, whether consensual or not.
SANDF Director Defence Corporate Communication Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said in a statement today that “reports seem to suggest that these are new allegations which have surfaced when in actual fact these incidents being referred to occurred a while back…They are presently under investigation and will be concluded as quickly as required by the UN. The investigating team that is currently in the DRC is also mandated to investigate any such incidences that have surfaced beyond 2016.
“The Chief of the SANDF, General Solly Shoke, is on record to have emphasised that ill-discipline and criminal behaviour in the ranks of the SANDF is despised and will not be tolerated and those found to have transgressed the Code of Conduct and Military Disciplinary Code will be dealt with without fear or favour.”
The SANDF said nine cases of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) were reported against South African soldiers on peacekeeping missions in 2017 and four 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.
The SANDF said it “wishes to reiterate its stance against any abuse of civilian members or population where it is deployed in support of the peace keeping efforts of the United Nations. That it deplores such behaviour from any of its members and takes these allegations in the most serious light.
“In view of these having surface the SANDF swiftly moved to send its legal officers and investigators to the mission area to deal with the efficacy of such reports. Once again it must be noted that these investigations are being conducted in close liaison with the United Nations office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
A flurry of sexual misconduct or abuse claims against aid workers and peacekeepers has become a huge embarrassment for the humanitarian sector in the past six months, Reuters reports.
The number of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by personnel serving with the United Nations dropped from 165 in 2016 to 138 last year.
Forty allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse were made during the past three months of 2017 against UN peacekeeping missions, agencies, funds and programs and implementing partners, the UN said last month.
The new incidents highlighted took place in North and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a UN peacekeeping presence has kept a variety of predatory militia groups at bay.
“The mission will continue to monitor their well?being and needs, as well as provide any additional assistance, such as the collection of DNA samples for paternity testing,” Dujarric said of the victims.
The United Nations has tried to improve transparency in how it deals with such accusations over the past few years, after a string of sexual exploitation and abuse charges were made against UN peacekeepers in Central African Africa.
Charities have also come under the spotlight and several have pledged to overhaul their approach to dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment.
But the South African peacekeeping contingent in Congo has repeatedly faced such allegations.
“Allegations against this contingent continue to occur, despite our sustained efforts … to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as other forms of misconduct,” Dujarric said.
South African soldiers receive SEA guidance ahead of and during all SANDF deployments, and it is an integral component of training.