Sweden urges UN probe into experts' murder
Human Rights Watch backs Sweden and the US in their demand for a criminal investigation into the murder of two UN experts, including Swede Zaida Catalán, and their interpreter in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A UN Board of Inquiry report presented on Thursday does not go far enough, according to Sweden and the US. Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director of Human Rights Watch, agrees.
“The report is inconclusive. The Board of Inquiry has not been able to determine who was behind the group that murdered the two experts. A follow-up investigation to determine who was behind these horrible murders is very much needed,” Charbonneau told Radio Sweden.
On March 12th, Zaida Catalán, a dual national of Sweden and Chile, and American Michael Sharp disappeared along with their Congolese interpreter Betu Shintela while gathering evidence of mass graves in the violence-torn Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The evidence was to be submitted to the UN Security Council. The bodies of the UN workers were discovered in shallow graves on March 27th.
The murders were a key issue at a Security Council meeting on Thursday, which was attended by the victims' family members.
The UN Board of Inquiry report stated that the three were likely assassinated by militia members. The report also outlined failings in security routines as well as suggestions for how to improve security for UN staff working in unsafe environments.
But Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström said the report did not go far enough and she called on the UN to launch an international criminal investigation in order to find the killers and bring them to justice.
"The work is not done," Wallström said in a statement. "Further action from the UN is needed."
At a press briefing on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he intends to do everything possible to ensure that the murderers are punished.
“The report makes clear that the two experts are innocent victims,” Guterres said. “It is of course my intention to do everything possible – together with the Congolese government and the Security Council – to ensure that the criminals are punished.”
But Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch said, due to internal politics, the Security Council is unlikely to conduct a follow-up investigation and that the idea that the Congolese government would carry out an investigation is not credible.
“We need to keep open the possibility that Congolese security forces were actually behind these murders and if that hypothesis or theory turns out to have some credence, then we need others involved in this,” Charbonneau said.
On its part, Congo does not approve of an international independent inquiry as demanded by Sweden, the US, and others. News agency AP reported that Congo's foreign minister Léonard She Okitundu said his government is already cooperating with the UN, a Human Rights Council inquiry with independent experts, and with US and Swedish authorities.