WASHINGTON — Senators are urging UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to follow through on calls for a special investigation into the murders of two UN investigators, including a Kansas man, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The government claimed that rebels were responsible for the March kidnapping and killing of Michael Sharp and his Swedish colleague, Zaida Catalan, along with four Congolese companions, but the Guardian reported in May that footage of the murders revealed their killers speaking in French and Lingala, languages used by the army, instead of the Tshiluba language spoken by the Kamwina Nsapu militia blamed by the DRC.
The team had been investigating human rights violations near Bunkonde, a remote village southeast of Kinshasa and not far from the Angola border. The bodies of Catalan, who had been decapitated, and Sharp, along with their interpreter, Betu Tshintela, were discovered by villagers in a shallow grave near the city of Kananga, near the area of their disappearance. The three others in the party remain missing.
The video also suggests that the investigators were not kidnapped but set up, as their hands were untied and they seemed at ease with their would-be killers.
Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Kennedy (R-La.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sent a letter to Haley today calling the murders “simply unacceptable” with circumstances surrounding their deaths that “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,” they wrote. “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.”
A month ago, Haley called for a special investigation. “Their families deserve justice,” she said. “We owe it to their legacy to end the human rights abuses being carried out by armed groups and the DRC government against the Congolese people.”
The senators noted that “there has been no apparent progress on such inquiry” as the government of the DRC resists such an investigation.
“The DRC government’s unreasonable stance must not inhibit the pursuit of justice for a U.S. citizen and a vital contributor to the Security Council’s role in addressing threats to international security,” the letter continued. “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.”
UN investigators have documented at least 42 mass grave sites in the country amid reports of killings by both the rebels and government forces.
“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,” the senators wrote. “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… 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.”
Sharp graduated from Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen, Ind., in 2001 and from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., in 2005. He had worked for the Mennonite Central Committee and the Program for Peace and Reconciliation of the Church of Christ in Congo before joining the UN nearly three years ago.
His father, Mennonite pastor and Hesston College professor John Sharp, told the Pittsburgh Tribune that “somewhere along the way from church and home,” his son “absorbed a theology and vision for peacekeeping and trying to bring some resolution to conflict areas.”
“We knew that he would live in areas of conflict, and we were entirely supportive of him — knowing he had to follow his passion and his calling. We knew something like this could happen, and we prayed it would not,” Sharp said.
John Sharp told the Guardian in April that he hoped the tragedy of the DRC murders “will not be compounded by a lack of resolve to continue the peace-building work that the UN has been doing there — further, I would hope the US government would pay its UN dues so their work can continue.”