Authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo should meaningfully investigate the government’s responsibility for the 2017 killings of United Nations investigators Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, Human Rights Watch said today . The administration of President Félix Tshisekedi should commit to ensuring that all those responsible for these killings are held to account and that international standards for a fair trial are respected.
On March 12, 2017, attackers summarily executed Zaida Catalán, a Swedish woman, and Michael Sharp, a United States citizen, while they were documenting serious human rights violations on behalf of the UN Security Council. human beings perpetrated in the province of Kasaï-Central. The UN peacekeepers found their bodies two weeks later near the village of Bunkonde. Their Congolese interpreter, Betu Tshintela, is still missing, as are the three motorcycle drivers who accompanied them – Isaac Kabuayi, Pascal Nzala and Moïse (last name unknown). The trial of around 50 defendants opened in June 2017 before a military court in Kananga, the provincial capital, and a specialized UN team., the Monitoring Mechanism, provides support and advice.
” Congolese justice should explore all avenues so that the whole truth is revealed on the assassination of the UN experts, the fate of their interpreter and their drivers “, declared Thomas Fessy , principal researcher for the DR Congo at Human Rights Watch. “ Other senior officials, especially those responsible for planning and ordering the killings, should be investigated. ”
Violence linked to the customary control of local chiefdoms erupted in the Kasai region in 2016 . This conflict was clearly linked to national political dynamics, with the Congolese army supporting the authority of people considered loyal to then-president Joseph Kabila and his political coalition, and some armed militias supporting people seen as more close to the opposition. This violence has caused the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of more than 200,000 people.
The Kabila government quickly blamed the killings on the Kamuina Nsapu militia. But a growing body of evidence has highlighted the role of state officials, notably thanks to investigations by Human Rights Watch, reports from Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Reuters , as well as an investigation conducted by an official. international media consortium known as “ Congo Files . ”
Kananga courts conducted proceedings slowly and the trial was suspended from March to October 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. More than fifty defendants have so far been indicted but only ten of them have been directly cited during the hearings. Other defendants still cannot be found and two defendants died in detention in suspicious conditions. At least three other defendants claimed to have been tortured by the police and at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). Others escaped from Kananga prison in May 2019 and have not been apprehended. The lack of legal aidfor some defendants, in violation of their fundamental rights, also caused many delays in the procedure, and the Congolese security services would have interfered in the investigation .
Over the past year, authorities have arrested three individuals presented as key players in the killings. A video of the execution, which circulated during the weeks following the assassinations, has not yet been examined as physical evidence to identify the attackers.
The investigation should go beyond the perpetrators and, where appropriate, direct the investigation to higher levels of the chain of command, Human Rights Watch said. Colonel Jean de Dieu Mambweni, military officer, and Thomas Nkashama, immigration officer, are the only officials responsible for the security or state services among the defendants . José Tshibuabua, a suspect who was an informant for the National Intelligence Agency, died in detention in late 2019.
” It is not only our families but also the people of Kasai and Congo who deserve to know the truth, ” Elizabeth Morseby, Zaida Catalán’s sister, told Human Rights Watch by telephone. “ They too need to heal the wounds following the horrific abuses Zaida and Michael were investigating in the region. It is in everyone’s best interests that this matter be resolved. ”
In more recent hearings, the prosecution has begun to analyze telephone records providing circumstantial evidence that some of the defendants were in fact in contact at the time of the murders, thereby contradicting previous accounts based on their testimonies.
One sign of progress is that more people with potentially relevant information have been called to appear in court. It is, among others, Sonia Rolley, journalist from RFI, who was in Kasaï-Central at the time of the facts and who has since investigated it.
President Tshisekedi had said in meetings with Human Rights Watch and senior officials in the United States, in particular, that he was determined to ensure that the whole truth is finally revealed, and that those primarily responsible for the killings are held. to be accountable. The senior officials involved, current and former, should not get away without prosecution and anyone who interferes in the proceedings, falsifies evidence or threatens defendants and witnesses should be duly punished.
The UN Follow-up Mechanism and DR Congo’s international partners should encourage authorities to analyze all relevant evidence and explore each avenue until it is all exhausted. With the support of the UN, the Congolese authorities should ensure that the safety of all witnesses and defendants is ensured.
” Four years after the tragedy, the Congolese justice has still not shown that it intends to fully investigate the crucial role that officials of the government and of the security forces have been able to play in these murders “, affirmed Thomas Fessy . “ There will be no real justice until the court moves up the chain of command. ”
Source: Human Rights Watch