The South African National Defence Force has indicated it is serious about eliminating sexual exploitation and abuse by its deployed soldiers and has come up with numerous interventions after a three-day conference on the subject.
The SANDF on 20 April concluded the conference after speakers had shared their expertise on best practices to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by soldiers deployed in mission areas. The conference was held at the Peace Mission Training Centre at the SA Army College outside Pretoria.
“The conference was hosted in an effort to ensure that the Code of Conduct for Uniform members of the SANDF is followed to the letter and that the good conduct prescripts applicable to the United Nations and African Union soldiers in operations are followed to the letter and no member of our military is allowed to put our organisation’s name into disrepute,” the SANDF said.
“The SANDF applies zero tolerance against the exploitation and abuse of locals in our areas of operation. We seek to always safeguard the local populations who are in need of protection and support because of their heightened vulnerability owing to displacements and poverty emanating from conflict and instability in their countries.
“The SANDF is in agreement with UN Victims’ Rights Advocate, Jane Connors, when she said that sexual exploitation and abuse “is conduct which is abhorrent and a conduct which is extraordinarily painful to its victims and undermines the UN itself and, of course, dents the trust that communities should have in the UN.” In our effort to maintain that level of trust between our soldiers and local populations in which we are deployed, it is prudent that we deal harshly with incidents of this nature in our midst whenever they rear their ugly head.”
According to the Military Advisor to the SA Mission to the UN, Brigadier General Mninimzi Sizani, there are currently eleven allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse being investigated by the SANDF, but some of these date back to 2014. Four incidents were reported this year. Many of the current cases relate to paternity disputes. Sizani emphasised that many of these cases are allegations and involve things like paternity claims and have not yet been proved.
South Africa has for many years included preventing SEA in its pre-employment training and says it has a small number of cases but is trying to reduce these even further.
Major General Wiseman Mbambo said SEA “has a hugely negative impact on the SANDF and our image as a country. The fact that we’ve identified a problem is a first step to resolving it.”
He said the issue of SEA is relevant on deployments both in and out of South Africa. “It’s very clear we have much work within the borders before we tackle the problem beyond our borders.”
He said a concrete action plan will be developed and implemented after the conference and include additional pre-deployment training for soldiers as well as education that filters down to basic military training.
In spite of a number of reported incidences of SEA, the UN has recognised South Africa as having one of the best approaches to dealing with SEA, such as having investigators on standby, preparing to criminalise sexual exploitation and abuse, supporting victims, having paternity testing and being transparent.
“We have been recognised as the best example for countries to understand our methods,” Sizane said. “The SANDF does not allow criminal conduct…we act on the spot.”
When asked about the causes of SEA, Sizane said the SANDF is a mirror of society and reflects its ills, but considering that many thousands of troops have been deployed over the years, there have been relatively few incidences.
The Peace Mission Training Centre has produced a booklet on SEA for deployed SANDF personnel. It applies to soldiers, mission experts, United Nations personnel, police officers, correctional officers, military observers, staff officers, interns and volunteers. The SEA Constitution prohibits sex with prostitutes and under 18s and relationships where there is abuse of power.
Sexual exploitation is defined as abusing vulnerable people and positions of power or profiting monetarily, socially or politically from sexual exploitation. Sexual abuse is defined as the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, verbal or physical conduct, or gestures of a sexual nature or any other behaviours of a sexual nature that might reasonably be expected to be perceived to cause offence.
Staff members serving under the United Nations, internationally or locally will be dismissed and military and police personnel repatriated and blacklisted if found guilty of SEA.