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.
A company of about 120 officers and jawans from the Sikh Regiment had been posted as UN peacekeepers in Congo. Every year, a company of the Indian army's infantry units are rotated for the posting, their primary task being the protection of the IAF's helicopter units based there and conducting patrols to ensure security to civilians.
On their return from Congo in July 2009, the company from the Sikh Regiment was posted to Meerut, where the CoI was then set up to probe allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against 51 army personnel. "As per rules, every nation conducts its own inquiry and shares its findings with the UN," a senior officer attached to the UN peacekeeping directorate toldOutlook. He says chances of transgressions by theIndians on their tour of duty are quite high. "So far, the CoI has produced conflicting statements from those facing the inquiry. Since these are old events, a lot of fact-checking is needed before the CoI can make concrete recommendations," the officer said.
The army HQ, though, is upset with the UN, because it didn't provide any opportunity to the accused Indians. "Based on the oral and documentary evidence gathered, the CoI has ruled out rape in most cases. The relationships, it seems, were either paid for or consensual. Either way, it marks a serious disciplinary breakdown," the officer toldOutlook.
The CoI could prove a tricky issue for the army, as the UN mission in Congo was also commanded by Lt Gen Bikram Singh, the seniormost general in the line of succession to current chief Gen V.K. Singh. If instances of sexual misconduct are found to have occurred during his tenure there, it could become a major blot on his record.
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."
|ALSO IN THIS STORY|
AUTHORS: SAIKAT DATTA
TAGS: UNO-UNITED NATIONS ORGANISATION | PEACEKEEPING FORCES | DEFENCE
SUBSECTION: COVER STORIES
PLACES: AFRICA | CONGO
JUL 31, 2011 01:02 PM
Indian Army has lived upto its highest standards laid by tradition. Since independence in each case of misconduct it has taken action and punished the guilty with out prejudice. Tehelka exposures is an example. It lead to strict punishments of all concerned. But it sad that all miconduct by politicians and beurocrats is sweept under carpet. What happened to Bangaru Laxman? Remember the recent case of Bhopal where IAS husband wife made millions then WHAT WHAT WHAT.