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DRC court sentences 49 to death over 2017 killing of UN experts

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By Kareem El Damanhoury, Wayne Chang and Mia Alberti, CNN

A military court has sentenced 49 people to death — while one officer will receive 10 years in prison — following an investigation into the 2017 murders of two UN experts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Human Rights Watch.

One of the men was sentenced to death for “criminal conspiracy, participation in an insurrectionist movement, terrorism and the war crime of murder,” the president of the military court said in the conviction.

HRW, however, says the court and Congolese State have failed to investigate the “higher up the broader chain of command overlooking state responsibility,” and that “more questions than answers remain” despite Saturday’s verdict.

“The court did not address accountability higher up the chain of command, pursuing a storyline that only blames militia for the murders rather than examining evidence pointing to the role of state officials. The authorities should investigate the critical role that government and security officials may have played in the murders”, HRW told CNN in an email.

UN experts Zaida Catalan, from Sweden, and Michael Sharp, from the US, were investigating large scale human rights violations in the Kasai region as members of the UN Group of Experts on Congo before the Congolese government announced on March 13, 2017 that they were captured by “unidentified negative forces.”

Two weeks later, UN peacekeepers discovered their bodies along with those of their local interpreter, Betu Tshintela, outside Kananga.

A Congo government official told CNN at the time that Catalan’s body was found decapitated, but Sharp and Tshintela were not beheaded

The US Ambassador to the DRC, Mike Hammer, tweeted the trial was “an important first step in uncovering the truth” but called on Congolese authorities to continue their investigation “into all possible leads for justice”.

The Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ann Linde, said in a tweet that Sweden would study the verdict and might appeal the result since the country “strongly opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances without exception.”

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