The NY Times reports:
“Zaida Catalán was on to something, and it was making her jumpy.
“Exciting development,” she scribbled in her diary in late January. “I can maybe nail this bastard. Damn!”
Weeks later, Ms. Catalán, a United Nations investigator with little training and no safety equipment or even health insurance, headed into a remote area teeming with militia fighters to find the culprits behind a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A grainy cellphone video shows what happened next: A cluster of men with rifles and red bandannas lead Ms. Catalán, a 36-year-old Swedish-Chilean, into a grove with her American colleague, Michael J. Sharp, 34. The two investigators are barefoot.
Mr. Sharp starts arguing. He and Ms. Catalán are forced onto the ground. Suddenly, shots are fired, hitting Mr. Sharp first. Ms. Catalán screams and tries to run for cover. She is shot twice.
Their bodies were discovered weeks later in a shallow grave, laid out carefully, side by side, in opposite directions. Ms. Catalán had been decapitated. Her head had been taken.
Their deaths raise tough questions about the United Nations and its work in the most dangerous places in the world. Almost two months passed before the United Nations even assembled a panel to look into what went wrong. The United Nations Security Council could go further and order a more formal investigation, but more than two months after the murders, it has taken no steps in that direction.
Instead, it has left the investigation to Congo, a nation where violence, corruption and impunity are so widespread that the United Nations has had to spend billions of dollars over the years in a failed effort to bring peace and stability. Indeed, a big focus of Ms. Catalán and her colleagues was whether the Congolese government played a role in the massacre and broader chaos she was investigating.
“The U.N. needs to take ownership,” said Akshaya Kumar, a deputy director at Human Rights Watch. She added that the Congolese authorities, who are implicated in the region’s conflict, were in no position to carry out a credible investigation.
The killings have also stirred a sharp debate over the United Nations’ responsibility to prepare and protect the people it hires to investigate wrongdoing around the world. Ms. Catalán and Mr. Sharp belonged to a panel of six experts authorized by the Security Council to investigate rapes, massacres and the exploitation of Congo’s vast natural resources.”
Sometimes we forget or minimize the great dangers faced by those fighting for human rights throughout the world.
Probably the most vivid personal example in my career was the untimely death of noted human rights activist and attorney Arthur Helton in Iraq. During my “Legacy INS” career I opposed, and probably helped depose, Arthur in a number of vigorously litigated Federal Court cases. But, I always considered Arthur a gentleman, a scholar, a person of great principle and integrity, and a most worthy opponent. His death was indeed a shock. In 2004, the American Society of International Law established the Arthur Helton Fellowship in his memory.