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News > Democratic Republic of Congo

DRC: 51 Charged With Death Sentences for UN Experts Murders

  • Children being escorted in UNICEF displaced persons camp in the DRC. Jan. 30, 2022.

    Children being escorted in UNICEF displaced persons camp in the DRC. Jan. 30, 2022. | Photo: UNICEF

Published 30 January 2022

A Military Court in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, has charged 51 defendants with death penalities for their direct involvement in the murder of two UN experts, Zaida Catalán (Swede-Chilean) and Michael Sharp (U.S.) back in 2017.

51 people have been charged with crimes connected to the slaying of two UN experts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2017. The accused have been sentenced to death, however, the DRC has a moratorium in place that prohibits the carrying out of death sentences in the country as long as it remains in place.


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A military court imposed the death penalty on 51 of the 54 defendants who were charged, and includes an army colonel who was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The killers will serve life in prison sentences instead, as the DRC’s moratorium policy on carrying out death sentences is in force.

More than 20 of the defendants were sentenced in absentia as they remain at large, while several others died in custody during the long-delayed prosecution.

The victims were Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalán, a Swedish-Chilean, two experts hired to probed violence in the Kasai region by the United Nations. The pair disappeared as they were investigating mass graves linked to a bloody conflict between the DRC Government and a local group.

Their bodies were discovered in a village on March 28, 2017, 16 days after they went missing. According to the official version of events, the pair were executed on March 12, 2017, the day they went missing.

The DRC’s Government accuses the Kamuina Nsapu rebels and denies any involvement by state officials. However, speculation suggests that there may be involvement of high-level government officials in the murders.

Authorities have arrested Colonel Jean de Dieu Mambweni and an immigration official, declaring they were involved in helping the rebels. This has prompted the UN Security Council to call the murders a “premeditated setup” in a report, as it may have involved state security.

The Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Saturday that further investigation must be done in order to “uncover truth and bring justice” to the others involved. Swedish officials will study the verdicts, however, the foreign minister said that, Sweden “strongly opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, without exception.”

Unrest in the Kasai region broke out in August 2016, triggered by the killing of a local traditional chief of the Kamuina Nsapu, sparked by tensions between customary chiefs in the Kasai-Central Province and the government. The violence spread rapidly in early 2017, but fizzled out in mid-2017.

As a result, it has been reported that around 3 400 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced after fleeing their homes.

According to a report on the Conflict in the Kasai, DRC by UNICEF, “existing intercommunity tensions became part of a wider conflict involving militias, armed groups and security forces across a region. Beyond Kasai, the humanitarian situation in the DRC deteriorated dramatically…”.

During the trial, prosecutors suggested that the militiamen had carried out the murders to take revenge against the United Nations, which the sect accused of failing to prevent attacks against them by the government’s army.


Anne Linde
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