By informing FARDC Brigadier General
Emmanuel Lombe of their itinerary,
which would be standard practice,
did Zaida Catalan sign her death
warrant and that of her colleague
Michael Sharp in the Democratic
Republic of Congo?
“The U.N. Security Council urged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday to cooperate in the investigation into the killing of two UN experts and the mass graves found in the Kasai region.”
The Voice of America/Africa presser then segues to a statement written by France (the penholder for DRC) that calls on Kinshasa and opposition parties to reach an agreement allowing a presidential election to move forward before the end of 2017.
Tying the investigation of the murders of Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp to politics in the same document is telling. One must revisit the narrative that began in August 2016 in Kasai Province when Mwami (Chief) Kamwina Nsapu was killed to understand why.
According to Radio Okapi, the Coordinator of the Congolese Human Rights Observatory (OCDH) in Central Kasai, Hubert Ngulandjoko, condemned the killing of “militia leader” Kamwina Nsapu. Overnight, the Mwami who was organizing against the regime of President Joseph Kabila and fighting for social justice became a militia leader and terrorist in press reports. His body was desecrated in opposition to traditional beliefs.
The two murdered experts, commissioned by the UN secretary-general to document the violence in central Kasai province, were investigating the killing of the Mwami and the discovery of more than 40 mass graves in the region. Since August more than 400 villagers have died in what is now known as the uprising of Kamwina Nsapu.
Who is doing the killing?
The deaths of Sharp and Catalan mirror those of the 400 they were investigating.
“There are multiple, credible allegations of massive human rights violations in Kasai, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental and Lomami provinces, amid a sharp deterioration in security situation there, including people being targeted by soldiers (FARDC) for their alleged affiliation with a local militia,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in February and before the deaths of Sharp and Catalan.
A YouTube video posted on February 17, 2017, shows men in Congolese army uniforms fatally shooting a group of villagers. A close look at the grainy footage shows that the victims are carrying slingshots, machetes and spears as they are mowed down by machine gun fire.
After a series of denials by DRC government spokesman Lambert Mende, and pressure by Human Rights Watch and other groups, the soldiers responsible for the atrocities against the villagers were arrested and charged.
“At a press conference, military justice announced several arrests in the video case of the execution of alleged militiamen Kamuina Nsapu. There were uniformed men firing on civilians, most of them disarmed. The Congolese government had described these images, shot in a single plane and broadcast on social networks, as “rough editing.” Military justice says something else.”
Ida Sawyer, Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch offered a different take on the arrests. “But Congolese judicial officials have shown little ability or willingness to independently investigate the military chain of command to examine the role of high-ranking commanders in unlawful killings and other crimes,” she said.
The orders came from high up the chain of command, and by his denials and blame directed at a “roughly edited” videotape, DRC spokesman Lambert Mende was introducing the possibility of culpability.
While all of this was going on, the U.N. investigators were kidnapped on March 12 and their bodies found 16 days later in a shallow grave. At least that is the narrative you will find in most international press reports. Other reports suggest that their bodies were found within a day of the executions, but this was hidden from the public and United Nations officials. Was this an attempt to buy time?
CGTN Africa, among others, is questioning the veracity of a video being circulated by the Congolese government.
“On 13 March, JMAC (the intelligence service of MONUSCO), informally circulated the news of the killings to the chancelleries and high authorities of the international community in the DRC.” See this report.
I am queasy discussing the execution of these young people, yet another of millions of atrocities that have not been brought to light in Congo. My fear is that writing about this assault and veering from the spoon fed narrative could be an unintended exploitation of the families. But, experience suggests that the truth is not what the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo wants us to believe. Unfortunately, the official United States narrative seems to be following suit, as evidenced in the VOA presser.
Mounting evidence and reports from the ground suggest that DRC government troops (FARDC) killed the U.N. experts in the most heinous ways possible. Coincidentally or by design, their executions were also videotaped and Mende has used the video, which shows men with red headbands (a symbol of the followers of Mwami Kamwina Nsapu) committing the executions.
Mende conveniently produced a professionally edited video (he will not say where he got it). Is this really “proof” that FARDC was not involved?
Someone needs to explain how rebel forces could execute two innocents, film it, and then how Mende could obtain it and subsequently have it narrated by Congolese police. Mende learned his lesson when a video surfaced in February and implicated government forces. Would a self-produced video help to exonerate him this time?
Couple that with the fact that MONUSCO (UN in Congo) has cozied up to FARDC and is working hand in glove with them. As Radio Okapi reports, “During discussions with the authorities of Upper Katanga, MONUSCO Force Commander Mgwebi Mbuyi Leso stressed the need for collaboration between the UN mission and the Congolese army (FARDC).”
Also, MONUSCO and General Emmanuel Lombe Bangwanga allegedly knew the secret route the victims were taking to investigate the mass graves.
Consider this: “On March 11, UN expert Zaida Catalan was received at the headquarters of the 21st Military Region in Kananga (Kasai, DRC) by the commander of the latter, General Emmanuel Lombe Bangwanga. Together, they would have agreed on the route to the villages where the Swedish young woman with her teammate, the American Michael Sharp, accompanied by a Congolese guide and three moped drivers, should have traveled to investigate Mass graves full of opponents belonging to the Kamuina Nsapu movement. Following the indications of this senior officer, that the following day, the convoy took a runway located in a zone under the control of the regular army (FARDC).”
The independent investigative unit L’AgenceD’Information asks the question no one has answered.
“By entrusting General (Emmanuel) Lombe, on the eve of her departure, the itinerary she was about to take, did Zaida Catalan sign her death warrant, that of her colleague Michael Sharp and their Congolese interpreter Betu Tshintela? Confirmed by numerous indices, the hypothesis is more than likely.”
You can find the rest of this report here.
This information contradicts the statements of Lambert Mende who, after the disappearance of the experts, said he regretted that they did not inform the authorities of their itinerary.
Voice of America Africa should be demanding, not “urging,” a thorough accounting from dictator Joseph Kabila. But expecting human rights from Kabila is a non sequitur.
Zaida Catalan was beheaded after other even more unspeakable atrocities. This is not what you want to read in the morning, but this is reality every single morning for villagers in Kasai and elsewhere. Adding to the mounting obfuscations propagated by DRC spokesman Mende, I will add that having worked under a U.N. press badge in DRC, you must inform them of your routing. It did not work out well for me either. My “bodyguard” turned out to be a mercenary who turned me over to the secret police. I was lucky and got out of the mess. Oh, and my “bodyguard” was working under a U.N. badge also.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley summed it up. “In other words, the U.N. is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people. We should have the decency and common sense to end this.”
It was too late for Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp who were trying to help the people of Congo. You can read more about Michael Sharp, an extraordinary young American, here.
Zaida Catalan’s last re-tweet on March 3 read: “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. –Buddha”
By Georgianne Nienaber
The Huffington Post