Eight South African soldiers serving under the United Nations peacekeeping mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) were recalled on Sunday, October 15, after allegations of sexual misconduct.
In a statement on Sunday, the South Africa’s Defence Department said the army was informed by the UN about eight soldiers who were allegedly involved in “serious acts of ill-discipline and misconduct.”
The peacekeepers based in Beni in North Kivu province were apprehended by the UN Military Police on October 1 for “being in direct breach of the curfew time and other regulations related to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse,” the statement said.
“Due to the serious nature of the allegations, the [South African National Defence Force] 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,” the statement reads.
The statement further added that South Africa’s National Investigating Officers were dispatched to the MONUSCO deployment area to conduct a formal investigation, upon whose completion the army will pronounce its position.
In a separate statement by the UN Department for Peace Support Operations said nine members of the South African contingent were seen “fraternizing” in locations where transactional sex occurs.
One senior South African military officer also reportedly attempted to hinder the investigation and threatened MONUSCO personnel, while two other senior South African military officers “reportedly failed to properly exercise their responsibilities in the command of their personnel.”
“Due to the very serious nature of the allegations, and the serious failure observed in the exercise of command and control, the UN has decided to immediately repatriate the nine contingent members and one senior military officer and requested the replacement of the two other senior military officers,” the UN peacekeeping department said.
Initial media reports said the eight soldiers were detained in Beni city after they were caught with sex workers at an unauthorised bar during curfew hours.
In response to the reports of sexual misconduct by its troops, on October 11, MONUSCO said it had taken “immediate and robust action” including suspension, detention and a full-fledged investigation to ensure a zero-tolerance policy.
South Africa’s Defence Department said it first learnt about the allegations from media reports.
It said that it was “unfortunate” that neither the South Africa’s Defence Advisor nor its representative to the UN were not informed about the allegations as is standard procedure for troop-contributing countries.
Since at least 2022, the UN mission, which was deployed a quarter century ago, has faced demonstrations over failure to end decades of insecurity in eastern DR Congo, which is home to over 130 armed groups.
The Congolese government wants the UN to withdraw its troops. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in August that the UN mission whose mandate expires in December, had embarked on an accelerated withdrawal.