Investigative journalists whose work focused on what really happened to United Nations experts Zaida Catalán of Sweden and American Michael Sharp in the Democratic Republic of Congo have won top honors from the Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) organization for their work.
The “Deceptive Diplomacy” reporting, which won in the broadcast category, was jointly conducted by Foreign Policy in the United States, French media outlets Radio France International and Le Monde, Sweden’s Sveriges Television, and Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany.
The award was presented at the IRE annual conference on Saturday.
“This investigation demonstrated a dedication to shoe-leather reporting on a project with a high degree of difficulty undertaken at great personal risk. The team took a huge institution, the UN, to task for looking the other way when murders were covered up,” said the judges.
“In a time when journalists and peacekeepers are under attack around the world, this piece did so much to illustrate the reality of those risky careers and the lengths some officials will go to hide the truth,” they added.
The bodies of Sharp and Catalan were found on March 27, 2017, two weeks after they disappeared along with Congolese aides near the village of Bunkonde, where the sanctions and armed groups experts were investigating human rights violations.
A video of their deaths released in April 2017 appeared to implicate Kamuina Nsapu rebels active in the Kasai provinces. Government officials made the video available to reporters in Kinshasa, stressing that the languages used by the attackers, as well as dress and manner, clearly identified them as Kamuina Nsapu militants.
Yet there were questions from the outset about whether the Congolese government was covering up the actions of its own military. The reporting further questioned the UN’s own investigation, led by U.S. official Gregory Starr and supported by a legal team under Canadian Robert Petit.
The investigative team’s findings were based on thousands of pages of UN documents, and the video footage of the deaths of Michael Sharp of the United States and Zaïda Catalan of Sweden. They suggested that the UN may have buried information to protect its relationship with Congolese authorities.
More than a dozen people have been arrested in the case, but clarity on the murders has been difficult to achieve. Last month, three of the suspects escaped from prison, adding to concerns over whether and when justice will be delivered.