UN officials deplore death sentences in case of murdered Congolese journalist

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

22 May 2008 – The United Nations’ top human rights official and its Special Envoy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today condemned the sentencing to death of three civilians by a Congolese military tribunal in connection with the murder of journalist Serge Maheshe last year.

The trio is among a group of people facing charges of complicity in the June 2007 murder of Serge Maheshe who was working for Radio Okapi, a UN and Swiss-funded broadcaster for the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and UN Special Envoy Alan Doss denounced irregularities in the trial, saying that the military court had refused to explore other credible leads in the case and to ask for ballistic expertise on the weapon used for the crime. They also said there had been repeated threats against the defendants, the defence lawyers and independent observers of the trial.

“I condemn the practice of military tribunals which continue to judge civilians in violation of international norms and the Congolese Constitution,” Ms. Arbour said.

“The lack of willingness shown by the judicial military authorities to establish the truth about this murder and the violations of international norms on fair trials are equally deplorable.”

Welcoming the acquittal of two other accused civilians in the case, Ms. Arbour and Mr. Doss said many questions remained unanswered and appealed to Congolese authorities to pursue the case in accordance with their obligations under international law.

In August last year four civilians were initially sentenced to death on the basis of confessions, which were subsequently retracted. Military magistrates were accused of obtaining the confessions under duress, but no independent inquiry was carried out to investigate these allegations.

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