UN Human Rights Investigators Slain in Congo
Washington, DC – The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission honors the lives and sacrifice of two United Nations human rights investigators and their Congolese interpreter whose bodies were found on March 27, 2017. Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, a Swede, dedicated their lives to serving vulnerable groups suffering under human rights abuses, and ultimately were killed for their work. The life of their interpreter, Betu Tshintela, was also sacrificed in support of this humanitarian mission.
Sharp, Catalan, and their team of Congolese nationals were investigating human rights violations near a small village in the central part of the Democratic Republic of Congo when they were abducted on March 17. In addition to Betu Tshintela, the team also included driver Isaac Kabuayi and two unidentified motorcycle drivers. There is still no information concerning the whereabouts of the other three team members.
The team was examining Congo’s compliance with UN sanctions and reporting directly to the Security Council on their findings. Armed groups in Congo often deal in extractive resources to fund conflict in the region, causing harm to local communities. This UN team worked to enforce sanctions and highlight abuses on the ground so that armed groups and government officials could be held accountable. Sharp and Catalan’s most recent report highlighted Congolese military officials’ illegal involvement in gold mining in the region.
United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley released the following statement:
It is always difficult to lose a brave American dedicated to service. Michael was working on the front lines of what we try to do at the United Nations every day: find problems and fix them. He selflessly put himself in harm’s way to try to make a difference in the lives of the Congolese people. His courage and desire to serve others is an example for us all.
The Commission is grateful for the work of these human rights defenders, and calls for a full accounting of the other members of the UN team. The government should allow full access to all investigations into recent violence in the Kasai region and fully cooperate with all efforts, including international missions, to ensure a transparent, prompt and fully independent investigation into the killings.