The Democratic Republic of Congo’s security agencies are interfering in an investigation into the murder of two UN experts, preventing a UN team from questioning key witnesses and suspects, according to a confidential report.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has sent the UN investigators to the DR Congo to help authorities find those responsible for the murder last year of American Michael Sharp and Swede Zaida Catalan in the Kasai region.
Led by Robert Petit of Canada, the team has since November been working with a Congolese military prosecutor in the Kasai city of Kananga, but progress has been slow, said the report sent to the Security Council two weeks ago.
“Several key arrests have taken place, but progress in the investigation continues to be hampered by the continued interference of the security apparatus,” said the report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.
In August, a UN inquiry found that local militia were most likely responsible for the killings of the pair, but it did not rule out involvement by others.
Sharp and Catalan were investigating mass graves and crimes associated with a rebellion in Kasai province when they were abducted along with four Congolese colleagues in March 2017.
The bodies of Sharp, the group’s coordinator and arms expert, and Catalan, a humanitarian expert, were found in a shallow grave by peacekeepers weeks after they disappeared. Catalan had been decapitated.
After two alleged militia members, Vincent Manga and Francois Badibanga, were arrested in March, a UN investigator was able to briefly question them in Kananga before they were suddenly transferred to Kinshasa “into the custody of the security services,” said the report.
The UN team is seeking to question the interpreter who accompanied the murdered experts, Thomas Nkashama, but “numerous credible sources have placed that individual in the custody of the security services for some time,” it added.
“It is quite clear that the security apparatus in Kinshasa continues to interfere with the judicial process and controls access to key witnesses and suspects,” said the report prepared by the UN’s political affairs department.
UN investigators have asked Congolese authorities for permission to question four other suspects arrested in December and detained in Kinshasa, but they have yet to be returned to Kananga despite assurances from the justice minister.
A total of 26 suspects are on trial for the murders of Sharp of Catalan, 14 of whom are being tried in absentia, but the report pointed to “evidentiary gaps” in the prosecutor’s case.
DRC authorities have asked the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO to help carry out a mission to recover the remains of four Congolese nationals believed to have accompanied Sharp and Catalan.
Testimony from Badibanga, who admitted to being present when the crimes were committed, could help to locate the bodies while United Nations police would be on hand to carry out forensic tests.
The Congolese army has denied involvement in the experts’ killing. In April, the government released a video that it said documented the execution of the two experts. It identified the executioners as members of the Kamwina Nsapu militia.
It remains unclear when the Security Council will discuss the report which comes amid concerns over preparations for presidential elections in December.
Guterres is expected to pay a visit to Kinshasa in the coming months, with African Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat for talks with President Joseph Kabila.