Death penalty given in journalist murder case alarms UN mission in DR Congo

Serge Maheshe

31 August 2007 – The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today expressed serious concern at the death penalty verdict given to four men convicted of murdering a journalist working for a UN-sponsored radio station with the largest Francophone audience in sub-Saharan Africa.

Two men were sentenced as the assassins by a military tribunal and the other two were convicted of sponsoring and organizing the killing of Serge Maheshe, which took place on 13 June in Bukavu in the far east of the DRC, as Mr. Maheshe and two friends were about to enter a UN-marked vehicle. His friends were not injured in the attack.

In a statement to the press today in Kinshasa, the DRC capital, the mission (MONUC) said that while it respected judicial independence in the vast African country, it considered that the tribunal did not base its verdict on the results of the autopsy or on any ballistic expert testimony.

“In fact, the tribunal noted that the confessions of the two principal accused contained contradictions and that certain allegations made by them cannot be corroborated,” the press statement said. “The tribunal itself underlined that doubts remained.”

MONUC stressed the UN principle, enshrined in a 1984 resolution of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), that a verdict of capital punishment must be based on “clear and convincing evidence that does not leave room for any other interpretation of the facts.” The judicial proceeding must also offer all possible guarantees of a fair trial.

Noting that an appeal had been launched by the convicted men, the mission said all guarantees of a just and equitable trial must be respected and all the pieces of evidence considered, and it pledged to provide legal authorities in DR Congo with any technical or logistical help they required.

Mr. Maheshe had been a senior journalist with Radio Okapi, a partnership between MONUC and the Hirondelle Foundation, a Swiss non-governmental organization (NGO), since 2003. Aged 31 at the time of his death, he left behind a wife and two children.

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