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Senators Booker, Roberts Lead Bipartisan Letter Urging Ambassador Haley To Pursue Special Investigation Into Deaths of UN Investigators

American citizen one of two UN investigators killed in Democratic Republic of the Congo in March

July 7, 2017
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) are leading 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 Catalan were murdered in the Kasai region of the DRC while they were investigating human rights violations.

 

In a letter sent today to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, the ten 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.”

 

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.

 

Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Kennedy (R-LA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Susan Collins (R-ME) also signed onto the letter to Ambassador Haley.

 

Senator Booker is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Africa on Global Health Policy.

 

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.[1] 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.[2]

 

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.[3]

 

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.[4] 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.[5]

 

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.[6] 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.[7] In addition, we share the unease raised by the UN Secretary-General and various member states with the DRC’s probe into the killings.[8] 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.

 

 

                                                                  Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

[1] “Press Release: Ambassador Nikki Haley Calls for Investigation into Atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” United States Mission to the United Nations, June 5, 2017, https://usun.state.gov/remarks/7823; Ida Sawyer and Jason Stearns, “The U.N.’s Tragic Inaction on Congo,” New York Times, Op-ed, June 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/opinion/united-nations-congo-killings.html  

[2] “Statement of the High Commissioner to the Interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 35th session of the Human Rights Council,” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, June 20, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21779&LangID=E; Ida Sawyer and Jason Stearns, “The U.N.’s Tragic Inaction on Congo,” New York Times, Op-ed, June 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/opinion/united-nations-congo-killings.html   

[3] Stephanie Nebehay, “Ethnic violence, humanitarian crisis deepen in Congo: U.N.,” Reuters, May 8, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-congo-violence-un-idUSKBN1841U6

[4] Jeffrey Gettleman, “‘Look, They Are Dying’: Video Appears to Show Massacre by Congolese Soldiers,” New York Times, February 17, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/17/world/africa/democratic-republic-congo-massacre-video-.html; Steve Wembi, “Congolese Militia Beheads Dozens of Police Officers,” New York Times, March 25, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/25/world/africa/congo-militia-police-beheadings.html

[5] “DRC: Zeid calls for international investigation into massive human rights violations in Kasais,” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, June 9, 2017, http://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21714&LangID=E; Thomas Wilson, “Fighting in Congo Kills More Than 3,300 People Since October,” Bloomberg, June 20, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-20/fighting-in-congo-kills-more-than-3-000-people-since-october

[6] “Resolution 2293 (2016),” United Nations Security Council, June 23, 2016, http://www.un.org/es/comun/docs/index.asp?symbol=S/RES/2293%20%282016%29&referer=/spanish/&Lang=E

[7] Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura and Somini Sengupta, “For 2 Experts Killed in Congo, U.N. Provided Little Training and No Protection,” New York Times, May 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/20/world/africa/congo-zaida-catalan-michael-j-sharp-united-nations-democratic-republic-of-congo.html;  Hannah Summers, “Video of UN investigator murders leaves Congo government facing scrutiny,” Guardian, May 8, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/may/08/congo-government-un-investigator-murders-scrutiny

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[8] “UN questions DR Congo probe of experts' murder,” Agence France Presse, May 23, 2017, https://www.yahoo.com/news/un-questions-dr-congo-probe-experts-murder-173735171.html