UN investigators found murdered in Congo
Africa | The team, including one American, was investigating human rights violations
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 3/29/17, 11:03 am
Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have found the bodies of two United Nations investigators, including an American, and a Congolese interpreter missing for more than two weeks.
The incident marks the first killing of international aid workers in Congo’s Central Kasai province and the first time UN experts have been reported missing in the country, according to Human Rights Watch.
American Michael Sharp, 34, and Swede Zaida Catalan, 36, went with their interpreter Betu Tshintela on March 12 to research reports of large-scale violence and human rights violations by the country’s army and militia groups in the province. Three other Congolese who accompanied the group remain missing.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said villagers found the bodies in a shallow grave and alerted police officials. Mende told the BBC “the body of the woman was found beheaded.” The confirmation followed several identification tests, he said.
Clashes between militia group Kamwina Nsapu and security forces began last year and escalated in August after state troops killed the group’s leader. More than 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 others displaced since then, according to the UN.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply saddened” by the incident. He called for a more thorough investigation into the killings and the continued search for the three missing Congolese.
“Michael and Zaida lost their lives seeking to understand the causes of conflict and insecurity in the DRC in order to help bring peace to the country and its people,” Guterres said. “We will honor their memory by continuing to support the invaluable work of the Group of Experts and the whole UN family in the DRC.”
Sharp’s father, John, told the Pennsylvania-based Tribune-Review his son was carrying out his second 18-month tour of duty with the UN. John Sharp, former pastor of Scottdale Mennonite Church, said his son absorbed a theology and vision for peacekeeping during his foundation at home and at church.
“We knew he would live in areas of conflict, and we were entirely supportive of him knowing he had to follow his passion and calling,” John Sharp said. “We knew something like this could happen, and we prayed it would not.”
Catalan had served as a lawyer and held different positions with Sweden’s Green Party. In 2010 she began her work as a sexual violence expert in the Congolese town of Goma with the European Union police mission.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Catalan worked tirelessly for peace and justice and had risked her life to save others: “It is a crucial mission to create greater security throughout the region and give hope to a country that has long been plagued by violence.”