Date: Nov 25, 2019

South Africa: Authorities must root out sexual abuse and exploitation in SANDF

Authorities must ensure transparency around the handling of investigations relating to “rampant” sexual abuse and exploitation within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Amnesty International said today following revelations by the Mail and Guardian

“The fact that the minister of defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, is quoted in the leaked internal report as saying that she has no confidence that the generals and flag officers will provide her with satisfactory answers, given that they have turned a blind eye to the sexual abuses for a long time, shows the deep-rooted nature of the problem,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa.

“The highest degree of professional conduct is expected from uniformed men and women who are charged with ensuring the protection of people, including in South Africa and abroad. Reports of widespread sexual violence and harassment are deeply disturbing and must be investigated thoroughly, with perpetrators held accountable.”

According to the newspaper, leaked data has revealed the depth of institutional gender-based violence in the army, showing that women in the SANDF are at higher risk of sexual harassment, and the perpetrators are mostly their uniformed male colleagues.

The newspaper, referring to the leaked report, said that at least 41 “sexual-related offenses” have been reported in the past 18 months ranging from “rape and assault to harassment”.

It is not the first time that sexual abuse allegations have surfaced in the SANDF. The soldiers were previously implicated in sexual offences in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while serving as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission. Allegations include rape, sexual assault and sexual exploitation of victims of the war that they were meant to protect.

“These allegations of systematic sexual abuse in the SANDF is a serious human rights violation that the authorities must immediately address. In addition, sexual abuse in peacekeeping threatens to undermine South Africa’s fundamental mission in the country and outside – to protect civilians,” said Shenilla Mohamed.

“Minister Mapisa-Nqakula must live up to her promise to investigate and take appropriate action against the troops found responsible. Impunity for sexual abuse must never be allowed within the South African National Defence Force or anywhere else.”

Background

Internal South African National Defence Force documents were leaked to the Mail & Guardian newspaper detailing that soldiers, meant to protect South Africa and keep the peace outside the country’s borders, are sexually assaulting people inside the army and while on peacekeeping operations. The newspaper exposed the abuses on 22 November.

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Mienke Steytler, Media and Digital Content Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 11 283 6000 (office) or +27 64 890 9224 (mobile); mienke.steytler@amnesty.org.za