Durbin Joins Bipartisan Letter Urging Ambassador Haley To Pursue Special Investigation Into Deaths Of UN Imvestigators
American Citizen One Of Two UN Investigators Killed In Democratic Republic Of The Congo In March
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined a bipartisan group of ten senators in urging the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to work with the UN Secretary-General to pursue an independent special investigation into the suspicious deaths of two UN investigators killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in March.
American Michael Sharp and Swedish-Chilean dual citizen Zaida Catalán were murdered in the Kasai region of the DRC while they were investigating human rights violations.
In a letter sent to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, the senators outline the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of the UN workers and urge Haley to “appoint an independent, transparent, and comprehensive UN special investigation” into the murders. While Ambassador Haley called for a special investigation in early June, there has been little apparent progress.
“We are encouraged to hear that a UN Board of Inquiry has already been appointed and is due to officially begin its investigation…” the letter states. “However, we also understand it will not seek to identify perpetrators, or what happened to Mr. Sharp’s and Ms. Catalán’s Congolese interpreter and drivers. The circumstances of this case demand a level of scrutiny beyond what such a board will pursue.”
“The DRC government’s unreasonable stance must not inhibit the pursuit of justice…Therefore, we urge you to expeditiously work with Secretary-General Guterres to appoint an independent, transparent, and comprehensive UN special investigation into the murders of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán and ensure that any such inquiry is conducted in collaboration and coordination with other ongoing investigative efforts by relevant national authorities.”
Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Kennedy (R-LA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Susan Collins (R-ME) also signed the letter to Ambassador Haley.
The humanitarian situation in the region where Sharp and Catalan were murdered has dramatically deteriorated in recent months, as clashes between government security forces and various militias have resulted in large-scale human rights abuses. In May alone, some 100,000 people were displaced amidst growing ethnic violence, bringing the total displacement population in the region to 1.3 million.
Senator Durbin has long been concerned about the humanitarian crisis in the DRC. In 2005 and 2010, Durbin traveled to Goma to meet with victims of the country’s brutal conflict, including survivors of sexual violence. In 2008, he hosted Dr. Denis Mukwege, the director and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in eastern Congo, at his Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law hearing on sexual violence as a weapon of war, the first-ever Senate hearing on the issue.
Durbin led a bipartisan effort to address the troubling link between the illicit mineral trade and violence in the region, and the resulting legislation, the Congo Conflict Minerals Act, became part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that passed in 2010.
Full text of the letter is below:
July 7, 2017
The Honorable Nikki R. Haley
United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations
United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Dear Ambassador Haley:
We write to express our profound concern over the March 2017 unresolved killing of two United Nations (UN) sanctions investigators, American Michael Sharp and Swedish-Chilean dual citizen Zaida Catalán, in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The brutal murder of UN investigators attempting to investigate gross human rights violations in the Kasai region is simply unacceptable. The circumstances surrounding their deaths raise serious questions and demand a credible, high-level UN investigation.
We are encouraged to hear that a UN Board of Inquiry has already been appointed and is due to officially begin its investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sharp’s and Ms. Catalán’s deaths. However, we also understand it will not seek to identify perpetrators or what happened to Mr. Sharp’s and Ms. Catalán’s Congolese interpreter and drivers. The circumstances of this case demand a level of scrutiny beyond what such a board will pursue. While we welcome your statement on June 5th calling for UN Secretary-General António Guterres to initiate a special investigation into the killings of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán, there has been no apparent progress on such inquiry. In addition, while we support the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution establishing an international team to investigate mass atrocities in the Kasai provinces, the murders of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán seem to be outside the scope of the UNHRC investigation. Meanwhile, the DRC government continues to reject the idea of an independent international investigation, even as U.N. and other independent human rights researchers allege government complicity in many of the abuses in Kasai.
The DRC government’s unreasonable stance must not inhibit the pursuit of justice for a United States citizen and a vital contributor to the Security Council’s role in addressing threats to international security. Therefore, we urge you to expeditiously work with Secretary-General Guterres to appoint an independent, transparent, and comprehensive UN special investigation into the murders of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán and ensure that any such inquiry is conducted in collaboration and coordination with other ongoing investigative efforts by relevant national authorities. The investigation should move forward as quickly and discreetly as possible – before evidence is destroyed or witnesses cannot be located. We further urge that, once completed, the investigation’s findings be made public.
As you are aware, the DRC is facing a major political crisis, with President Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition stalling on implementation of a 2016 political agreement that would move the country towards overdue national elections. At the same time, security forces have been generating unchecked political repression and large-scale human rights abuses while the humanitarian situation has been “dramatically deteriorating” in the country’s central Kasai regions over recent months. According to the UN, in the first week of May alone, some 100,000 people were displaced amidst growing ethnic violence, bringing the total number of people displaced in the region to some 1.3 million.
This crisis in Kasai comes on the heels of a number of disturbing reports of abuse committed in the course of fighting between government forces (FARDC) and a local militia called Kamuina Nsapu. Videos have emerged showing Congolese soldiers appearing to massacre unarmed civilians, while a different video appears to show Kamuina Nsapu members decapitating DRC police. UN investigators have documented some 42 mass grave sites and the killings of more than 400 people since last August, while the Catholic Church in DRC reports a death toll of over 3,300.
It was in this context that Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán were conducting their work as members of the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, which is authorized by the UN Security Council to investigate and report to the Council on the funding and supply of weapons to armed groups, violations of human rights and abuses by all groups including the FARDC, and other key issues. We note with concern reporting by the Guardian and New York Times that raises potentially disturbing questions over who may be responsible for their deaths. In addition, we share the unease raised by the UN Secretary-General and various member states with the DRC’s probe into the killings. Such reports highlight the need for a thorough and credible independent investigation.
Our determination in ensuring a full accounting of this matter must show unequivocally that UN officials will not be intimidated and that perpetrators of violence will be investigated and brought to justice. We again urge you to work with Secretary-General Guterres to appoint an independent, transparent, and comprehensive UN special investigation into the killings of Mr. Sharp and Ms. Catalán. We further urge you to work with United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to communicate to your Congolese counterparts that obstruction and obfuscation will have consequences for U.S. bilateral relations.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.
Previous Article Next Article