Eight South African soldiers participating in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) were called back to South Africa on October 15th following allegations of sexual misconduct. The South African Defence Department stated that they were informed by the UN about these soldiers who were involved in “serious acts of ill-discipline and misconduct.” The soldiers, stationed in Beni in the North Kivu province, were apprehended by the UN Military Police on October 1st for violating the curfew and other regulations related to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. Due to the gravity of the allegations, the South African National Defence Force decided to recall the soldiers to South Africa to address the allegations and provide an account of the events that occurred on October 1st in Beni.
In a separate statement, the UN Department for Peace Support Operations stated that nine members of the South African contingent were observed “fraternizing” in areas where transactional sex takes place. Additionally, a senior South African military officer allegedly obstructed the investigation and threatened MONUSCO personnel, while two other senior officers reportedly failed to fulfill their command responsibilities adequately.
Considering the severity of the allegations and the significant shortcomings in command and control, the UN has taken immediate action to repatriate the nine contingent members and one senior military officer. Furthermore, they have requested the replacement of the two other senior military officers.
Initial media reports suggested that the eight soldiers were detained in Beni city after being caught with sex workers at an unauthorized bar during curfew hours. In response to the reports, MONUSCO announced on October 11th that they had taken swift and decisive action, including suspension, detention, and a comprehensive investigation, to uphold a zero-tolerance policy against misconduct.
The South African Defence Department expressed their disappointment in learning about the allegations through media reports, as standard procedure dictates that the South African Defence Advisor or their representative to the UN should have been notified. The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has faced criticism since 2022 for its inability to end the decades-long insecurity in the eastern region, which is plagued by over 130 armed groups. The Congolese government has called for the withdrawal of UN troops, and the mandate of the UN mission is set to expire in December.
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