Fresh investigations into a sex-for-cash scandal involving Indian UN peacekeepers deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo have revealed that at least 10 soldiers may have had sex with prostitutes. The United Nations code of conduct in Congo prohibits peacekeepers from soliciting prostitutes.
Lifting the lid on their actions, the North Kivu Indian brigade has gathered sufficient evidence to prove the peacekeepers used children to hire Congolese girls for sex in Masisi, an exhausting five-hour drive from Goma.
The UN Organisation Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (known by its French acronym MONUC) is served by 4,554 troops.
Hindustan Times has learnt that five children have identified the peacekeepers from 1 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles after they were shown photographs of around 100 peacekeepers based in Masisi when allegations of sexual misconduct were made last year.
North Kivu brigade commander Bipin Rawat told HT, “Initial findings confirm their involvement. We have sent our report to the army headquarters in New Delhi and recommended a thorough probe in view of new evidence.”
The peacekeepers involved returned home in April as part of half-yearly troop rotation. Charges against them would be corroborated in India before prosecutions, Rawat said.
The 18,931-strong MONUC, the largest and costliest UN deployment across the globe, is the only mission where troops can be prosecuted for sex with prostitutes. The act falls within the definition of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The investigation conducted by the North Kivu brigade, on the orders of army vice-chief Lieutenant General M.L. Naidu who was here this May, challenges the findings of a previous inquiry by the United Nations' Office of Internal Oversight Services in Congo.
To the consternation of the Indian Army, the powerful UN investigating agency had charged almost 60 soldiers with soliciting sex from prostitutes and some 40 troops with employing child labour earlier this year. Considering the findings of the army inquiry, the rot may not run as deep as the UN agency had made it out. But pre-emptive measures have been put in place to discipline troops.
Brigadier Rawat has formed flying squads to snoop on his men garrisoned in and around North Kivu's capital Goma. Raids are regularly conducted at no-go places such as nightclubs, bars and red light areas. The squads include personnel drawn from the Bangladesh military police.
Troops finishing their tenure have been placed under surveillance as sexual abuse and exploitation usually takes place during the last two months, said an officer. There is evidence to prove that posts held by soldiers provide safe haven for such activities.