Peacekeeping and Sexual Exploitation

This week’s Outlook Magazing has as its cover story the scandal that we would rather ignore–sexual exploitation by Indian soldiers posted as peacekeepers in the Congo.

Bally Mutumayi , Ashish Kumar Sen and Saikat Datta, The Peacekeeper’s Child, outlookindia.com, August 8, 2011.

On the bank of Lake Kivu, in the southern quarters of Goma—the capital of the forested North Kivu province—is theNyiragongo camp of Indian FPU-2, home to some of the 3,871 soldiers from India who are deployed as United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are famously known as the formidable soldiers of Monusco, a French acronym for the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, which was called Monuc till June 30, 2010….

The reprehensible phenomenon of sexual misconduct in Congo envelops not only the lowly jawan, but also includes Indian army officers who, because of their lavish salaries, violate the UN code of conduct with wily sophistication, in greater secrecy…

… No doubt, the sexual misconduct of Indian soldiers have sullied India’s exemplary record in UN peacekeeping missions. Nearly 50 years ago, Maj Gurbachan Singh Salaria was posthumously awarded the country’s highest gallantry award—the Param Vir Chakra—for his role in the peacekeeping operation in Congo in 1961. The charges against the Indian soldiers today insult his memory and the country he so gallantly served.

Saikat Datta, Under The Microscope, A Stain,  outlookindia.com, August 8, 2011.

For more than two months now, an army court of inquiry (CoI) has been poring over documents and cross-examining 12 officers and 39 soldiers to verify whether they were guilty of sexual misconduct during their year-long stint, beginning January 2008, in Congo. These men belong to a unit of the Sikh Regiment and face charges ranging from rape to fraternising with the local population, all expressly forbidden by Indian military law and the UN code of conduct governing peacekeepers. The CoI, under the Meerut-based 9th Infantry Division of the army, is headed by Brig M.M. Masru assisted by two colonels…

…The army is determined to punish the guilty. As the army spokesperson told Outlook, “The Indian army is a disciplined force with zero tolerance for indiscipline. Even though the case pertains to 2008, and an independent inquiry was conducted by the unit, as also by the UN’s OIOS in the same year, the army has taken a serious view of the allegation. Yet another inquiry is being conducted to further look into the matter.”

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Peacekeeping and gender violence

A newsreport today states the the Indian Army is investigating allegations that an Indian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Congo sexually exploited women there and fathered children. Of course, it is always possible that some of these followed from consensual relationships, but the power and privilege equation between the two individuals would make that debatable.

As the article reminds us, this is not the first such allegation.  The Army usually investigates and then sometimes dismisses such charges. When pressed, senior Army officials describe the human rights training and the recreational facilities made available to soldiers to “work off their excess energy.” But this is a problem that has lasted through history: that sexual violence is considered one of the spoils of war, that it is both weapon and vent for all the excessive testosterone energy that war calls up.

Read this report today: Varinder Bhatia, Army probes reports of its UN peacekeepers fathering kids in Congo, Indian Express, June 7, 2011.

You can also see: Peacekeeping and gender–my New Indian Express article of 2008 (Swarna Rajagopalan, Guardians stray from the straight path, New Indian Express, Chennai, August 25, 2008) on the same subject.