Army of sex pests
South African soldiers on United Nations peacekeeping missions are the world's worst military sexual predators.
The damning revelation is made alongside allegations that the UN allegedly tried to cover up the sexual abuse of women and children in the Central African Republic by French peacekeepers in 2014.
A report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, released last week, reviewed the organisation's four biggest peacekeeping missions and sexual offences committed by its peacekeepers, which it labels a "regular occurrence".
The missions are those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan, where more than 2000 South African soldiers are stationed, Liberia and Haiti. South Africa does not have any soldiers in the latter two countries.
The report shows that South Africa tops the list of offending nations, despite not being the biggest contributor of troops to missions.
In terms of substantiated allegations, the report states that the three countries whose soldiers are most abusive are:
- South Africa (nine allegations);
- Uruguay (eight allegations); and
- Nigeria (seven allegations).
The report does not detail the nature of the allegations but says some of the offences were committed by more than one soldier.
By the time of going to print the Defence Ministry had failed to respond to questions on how many troops had faced military trials or the outcome of the trials.
Under a memorandum of understanding between the UN and countries that contribute troops, the primary responsibility to investigate alleged misconduct lies with a soldier's military.
The UN received 480 sexual exploitation and abuse allegations about its peacekeeping operations and special political missions between 2008 and 2013, with the DRC mission accounting for 214 (45%) of these.
Of the 480 reported allegations, 36% involved minors.
The UN provided assistance to only 12% of victims.
However, the report broke down the substantiated allegations per troop-contributing country only from 2010 to 2013.
The document states that despite the UN having strategies to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers "the allegations persist". In 2013 the incidents increased to 66 from 60 in 2012.
The report says the policing and punishment of sexual exploitation and abuse is hindered by prolonged delays in investigations and severely deficient victim-assistance programmes. The investigations of troop-contributing countries are seen as unreliable because of a perceived conflict of interest and concerns over the quality of investigative standards.
The document says a lack of common sanctions is a hindrance, with civilian staff commonly dismissed but troops often only repatriated.
Among the sanctions imposed against military personnel were salary cuts, demotions, separation from service and sometimes criminal proceedings. Between 2010 and 2012, 45.7% of military suspects were imprisoned.
The UN calls for:
- Improvements in investigative standards and transparency;
- Troop-contributing countries to provide investigators to be embedded in contingents so they can help with investigations; and
- The use of courts-martial in peacekeeping missions.
Sava Heleta, a conflict-management and post-conflict issues researcher at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, said: "What the report shows is that whatever the military is doing to address ill-discipline is not working. It is gravely concerning that South Africa tops the list .When victims of conflict see peacekeepers they are meant to feel protected, not fear them."
He said the report backed research showing that South African troops were involved in some horrendous crimes, including murder and sexual offences.
"In Burundi, when South Africa led the peacekeeping mission between 2001 and 2009, our troops faced nearly 400 misdemeanours and about 1000 military trials, [ranging from] absence without leave to rape and murder.
"In the DRC, between 2005 and 2006, they faced 264 misdemeanours and more than 546 military trials for serious crimes.
"This shows there are still very serious problems in the SANDF."
Heleta said South Africa's latest defence review did little to address ill-discipline. "It provides no details on solutions.
"The military constantly complains about underfunding, but discipline doesn't require cash."
Defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said ill-discipline went back decades: "With the amalgamation of the SA Defence Force and liberation armed wings we got some very good officers, but we also got real scum from the old SADF.''
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that former Canadian supreme court justice Marie Deschamps would lead a review of how the UN dealt with allegations that French troops sexually abused children in CAR.