What's In Blue

Democratic Republic of the Congo Sanctions: Briefing on the Deaths of Two Members of the Group of Experts

Today (22 August), Council members will be briefed by the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, Peter Drennan, under “any other business” on the conclusions of the Secretary-General’s Board of inquiry (BoI) into the murder in March of two members of the 1533 Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Sanctions Committee’s Group of Experts, Zaida Catalán (Chile/Sweden) and Michael Sharp (US).

BOI Report and Briefing

The report itself will not be shared with Council members; however, they received the executive summary on 16 August (S/2017/713). Regarding the murders, the BoI found that it is likely that militia groups were responsible for the deaths of Catalán and Sharp and that further investigation is needed to determine the exact identity of the perpetrators. No evidence was found that points to the involvement of individuals tied to the government, though that possibility cannot be entirely excluded. It recommends a further criminal investigation by the DRC, with the support of other member states. (Both Swedish and US authorities are conducting their own investigations into the murders, with the cooperation of the DRC). The BoI notes as well that “There are reports that the Congolese interpreter and the three motorcycle drivers [accompanying Catalán and Sharp] were also killed, but their bodies have not been found to date.”

The BoI also reviewed the UN’s security procedures related to the safety of panels of experts. It found that the UN has an in-depth security program and applicable and sufficient policies and procedures established under the UN Security Management System. The BoI noted that members of sanctions groups of experts did not believe that the management system pertained to them, though it states that this belief did not contribute in any way to these tragic deaths. The board then recommended “a review and strengthening of the management of the activities of groups of experts”, including “support to their activities by field missions”, as well as a “review, evaluation and adjustment of support arrangements for groups of experts, in consultations with the relevant legislative and budgetary bodies, to enable the safe and effective implementation of their mandates.”

The briefing today will be the first opportunity for Council members to hear directly about the investigation and its conclusions, the further steps recommended, and the role the Council can or should play in that regard. Since Council members will not receive the report itself, they may inquire into details that go beyond the scope of the short executive summary and the briefing. While it seems that Council members will mainly listen at this stage, the meeting will also provide members with the first opportunity to exchange views as to possible measures the Council may adopt, as well as the appropriate steps the Secretary-General should take. Although Council members have emphasised different aspects of further investigations (some emphasising accountability and others the primary responsibility of the DRC to investigate crimes within its territory), there seems to be an understanding that much will depend on securing the cooperation of the DRC government.

More generally, the recommendations of the BoI are an opportunity for Council members to take a closer look at the security arrangements for its mandated panels of experts assisting the sanctions committees and how these are to be improved. Though panels of experts have been operating for years, the executive summary raises questions as to how the existing security procedures have been applied to these panels in practice. Council members are likely to inquire as to the mechanisms in place and their application, and further assessments to be carried out by the Secretariat in this respect.

Recent Briefing on the DRC Sanctions Committee and the Secretary-General’s Luncheon

On 17 August, when the chair of the 1533 DRC Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta (Egypt), briefed the Council (S/PV.8026) on the final report of the Group of Experts (S/2017/672/Rev.1), family members of Catalán and Sharp were in attendance and many Council members addressed the investigation into their deaths. The group’s report tracks the continuing violence by armed groups in the eastern DRC. It notes that these groups are becoming further fragmented, operating in a more decentralised while heavily networked manner, with foreign and local armed groups increasingly interconnected. As for the murder of the two experts, the group’s report called on the Council to mandate the Secretary-General to establish an independent international investigation into their murder.

Several Council members addressed various issues during the meeting, including the continuing political crisis in the DRC and the lack of progress in implementing the 31 December 2016 agreement to hold elections by the end of the year. Several Council members spoke to the issue of the investigation. Some members emphasised the need for further investigation into the incident to ensure accountability, the US in particular stressing that this should be done without delay. Other Council members, such as Russia, stressed that they support further investigation under the jurisdiction of the DRC, in accordance with the recommendations of the BoI.

Though not on the agenda, the BoI was also briefly discussed during the Secretary-General’s monthly luncheon with Council members later that day. The Secretary-General raised various options regarding the way forward with the investigation, along the lines suggested in the BoI report. One such option included a DRC investigation with some assistance from UN experts.

Related Developments

Beyond the investigation into the above events, the violence in the Kasai region has been a focus of attention for the Council in recent months, as well as for the Secretary-General and OHCHR. Intercommunal clashes between militias and government forces in the region began in August 2016, when the leader of the Kamwina Nsapu militia was killed in fighting with the DRC police. According to UNHCR, approximately 30,000 people fled the Kasai to Angola between April and 22 June 2017, while 1.3 million people were internally displaced.

In July, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO) released its report on the human rights situation in the country between January and June 2017, noting an increase in the number of human rights violations committed since the beginning of 2016. UNJHRO said that most of the 42 mass graves in Kasai discovered during the period “would have been dug by [Congolese army] elements following clashes with alleged militiamen.”

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, deployed a team of human rights officers to Angola to interview refugees who had fled violent attacks in the Kasai region. Based on its interviews, in a report released on 4 August, the OHCHR team confirmed that human rights abuses and violations had been committed against at least 282 victims, including 113 women and 68 children, by parties involved in the ongoing crisis in the Kasai, including the Kamuina Nsapu and the Bana Mura militia, as well as state agents, mainly FARDC soldiers. The team added that the abuses reported may amount to crimes against humanity if brought before a competent tribunal.

In addition, the High Commissioner announced on 26 July the appointment of three international experts to investigate human rights abuses in the Kasai region as mandated by Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution 35/33 of 22 June. The team of experts is expected to investigate reports of “recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual and gender-based violence, destruction of houses, schools, places of worship, and state infrastructure by local militias, as well as of mass graves.” The team’s findings are due to be presented to the HRC in June 2018.

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