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Vol 58 No 19

Published 22nd September 2017


Storm over probe into UN experts murder

Doubts are growing about the UN inquiry into the killing of two of its experts in March as pressure mounts for an full investigation. Some link the government to the deaths

The United Nations' Board of Inquiry report on the murders of Congo-Kinshasa Group of Experts members Michael J Sharp and Zaida Catalán in central Kasaï on 12 March has come under sharp attack. Sonia Rolley, the Radio France International correspondent in Kinshasa whose credentials were revoked by the government shortly after the killings, is among those criticising the scope of the report and arguing there is important evidence the inquiry should have considered.

The Board of Inquiry travelled to Congo-K to review reports on the deaths and make recommendations, and delivered its report to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on 2 August, publishing a six-page executive summary on 15 August. It concluded that Sharp and Catalán were murdered by 'a local militia group' near the town of Bunkonde, which the researchers were approaching, along with a local interpreter and three motorbike taxi-drivers. They were hoping to meet members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia as part of their investigation of human rights abuses, especially the recruitment of child soldiers (AC Vol 57 No 25, Killers crowd in). They were stopped short of Bunkonde and shot dead. Catalán was then decapitated. The report says the interpreter and the drivers were probably also killed but their bodies have not been found.

Someone in the group that killed the researchers filmed the shooting on a mobile phone, and the footage was used to identify individuals now on trial for the murders before a military tribunal, according to the authorities in Kinshasa (AC Vol 58 No 15, Losing control in Kasaï).

Rolley's highly-detailed 12 September account for RFI claims there were important omissions in the inquiry report, a full copy of which Africa Confidential has seen. She suggests the possibility that members or agents of the intelligence service, the Agence Nationale de Renseignements, were involved in the murders.

Secretary General Guterres came under fire as soon as Rolley's report appeared. Prodded by United States, Swedish and other diplomats, the UN has decided, AC has learned, to send five criminal investigators to 'embed' with the Congolese agency looking into the killings. This has disappointed the families of the victims and outraged human rights advocates who want a full independent investigation and do not trust any agency beholden to President Joseph Kabila's government. When questioned by the press on 13 September as to whether the UN would now call for an independent enquiry, Guterres appeared to backtrack, stating that if it turned out that assigning UN personnel to the Congolese agency was impractical, he would reconsider.

Rolley's main claim against the UN Board is that it failed to properly review two key pieces of evidence; an 11 March audio recording taken in Kananga of Sharp and Catalán discussing their trip to Bunkonde with Kamuina Nsapu leaders, and the mobile phone footage of the murders.

Rolley used experts in the Ciluba language spoken by the Kamuina Nsapu militia to analyse the recording of the 11 March meeting and the words said up to and including the shooting. Rolley discovered that Sharp and Catalán's fixers were mistranslating the words of the Kamuina Nsapu leaders on 11 March. The linguists said that the leaders were telling them not to go on to Bunkonde, but the fixers were not translating the advice, and simply assuring the UN personnel there was no danger. Some of Sharp and Catalán's colleagues in the UN Group of Experts told AC this makes them suspect state involvement in the killings.

The Board could not, it said, 'fully establish' the affiliations and motivations of Sharp and Catalán's killers, and it added that 'information circulating regarding the possible involvement of various government individuals or organizations does not provide proof of intent or motive on the part of any individual(s).' The Board points out that it is 'neither an investigative nor a judicial review mechanism'.

One of the fixers who misled Sharp and Catalán in the recording, Betu Tshintela, is said locally by some to be an ANR agent. The government spokesperson and minister Lambert Mende told the media on 29 March, two days after the discovery of Sharp and Catalán's corpses in a shallow grave, that Tshintela's body was also found. Tshintela's family deny this, Rolley says, and the Uruguayan and Tanzanian peacekeepers who found the graves made no mention of a third body. Two other voices in the recording were Thomas Nkashama and José Tshibuabua, both agents of the Direction Générale de Migration, the security service with the most extensive network in the greater Kasaï region, and the ANR, according to Rolley. The Board was given this information, sources working for the UN's police service, UNPOL, told AC, but made no reference to it in its full report.

Rolley also reports extensively on the role of Jean Bosco Mukanda, an alleged agent provocateur working for government interests who is the main prosecution witness at the military trial of the murder suspects. Less than half an hour after the murders Mukanda, who says he is a local teacher from Bunkonde, began contacting UN staff, claiming he had witnessed the murders. He blamed the decapitation of Catalán on some local chiefs, including one known as Bula Bula. Mukanda has close links to the national army, the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) and has been freely levelling accusations against the FARDC's local enemies.

Rolley's linguistic analysis of the video of the murder reveals that many of the voices heard among the perpetrators of the murder were not local to the region. One Ciluba exclamation overheard on the recording is the phrase: "in Bunkonde you said these weapons would not fire", indicating that one of the witnesses or unsuspecting accomplices to the execution had held a discussion in FARDC-controlled Bunkonde prior to the murders. The UN inquiry did not report this or the possibility that Mukanda was acting for the FARDC.

The UN's own peacekeeping mission in Congo-K, Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation du Congo (Monusco), is unhappy with the inquiry report, according to several Kinshasa-based diplomats whose governments believe the UN should commission a full, investigative and independent inquiry. 'These conclusions and recommendations by the Board of Inquiry are really surprising, and raise a lot of questions about methodology,' states one diplomat.

The UN inquiry was chaired by Gregory Starr, a specialist in the protection of diplomatic personnel who was previously the UN's Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security. He previously worked in the US government's regional security office in Kinshasa during the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko. Other board members included former Australian UN Police Adviser Andrew Hughes, former UN chief of field support and US Navy officer John Logan and Lorraine Ricard-Martin, a former sanctions officer in the UN's department of political affairs who runs a consultancy company that advises the UN Secretariat on sanctions-related issues.

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