South African soldiers apparently involved in sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) while on United Nations (UN) peacekeeping duty in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were repatriated last Friday (October 27).
This was made public by Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during a Wednesday briefing at UN headquarters in New York. Last month when the arrests were announced he indicated “robust action” would follow, including “immediate repatriation”.
Eight South African soldiers were reportedly 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”.
Dujarric’s Wednesday statement reads, in part “nine identified South African contingent members were repatriated last Friday, along with three senior South African officers and that was following our decision on the matter which was communicated to the South African authorities on 12 October”.
There was, at the time of publication, no indication from either the South African Department of Defence (DoD) or the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) on whether the repatriated soldiers are in custody or what charges they face.
In mid-October DoD HoC (Head of Communication), Siphiwe Dlamini noted it was “unfortunate” South Africa, as a troop contributing country (TCC), was not informed of the allegations and learnt of them “in the media”. His statement read, in part: “The reporting procedure was not followed by the UN because the RSA Defence Advisor nor the RSA UN Representative were not informed as per the Standard Operating Procedure for all TCC’s (sic)”.
A team of South African investigators is working with the UN Office of Internal Oversight, the statement continues, adding “as the investigation progresses, any identified victims will be referred for assistance in line with the UN Comprehensive Strategy on Assistance and Support to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse”.
To prevent further possible SEA incidents in its DRC mission – MONUSCO – Dujarric said camp entry and exit points have been “reinforced” with the same for curfew measures and visits to out-of-bounds areas, while prevention activities among personnel and host communities continue.