But when I put that to De Witte, he was quick to correct me. “No, no, no. I did not say that. It was a complicity in the political elimination of Lumumba that in the end points to his assassination. But you cannot say that it was complicity in the assassination itself.
“What I said is that during the course of transferring Lumumba to Katanga, and on his arrival there, the UN stayed extremely passive.
“The UN forces didn’t move. I think they didn’t want to interfere with Congolese authorities or the Belgians behind them, even though they saw that Lumumba had been heavily beaten during the flight, and while he was taken out of the plane when he arrived in Katanga.
“But the most important element in the eyes of the Congolese Government concerning Lumumba, is that when he fled his house at the end of November and tried to reach his supporters, he was chased by Mobutu’s troops, supported by Belgian and CIA personnel.
The New York UN headquarters had made it clear that it could take Lumumba into protective custody only if he was still the prime minister.
“But that was not the case as Lumumba had been controversially dismissed as PM by President Joseph Kasavuba. Consequently, the UN headquarters ordered that under no circumstances should Lumumba be taken into the UN’s protective custody.”
A copy of the order document was found in the UN archives.
“In fact, the rank and file of the UN Blue Helmets wanted to take him into protective custody.
“But the officer in charge followed his orders from headquarters, and that is how he fell into the hands of Mobutu’s troops and was transferred to Katanga where he was killed.”
“This is a very important element in the succession of events which proves a clear complicity of the UN. Hammarskjöld never spoke about it, and even in writing to the UN’s Security Council afterwards, when he told the UN he didn’t know where Lumumba was and that they couldn’t take him into preventive custody. That was clearly a lie.”
De Witte’s thinking on the Lumumba assassination has aroused a string of supporters for Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s actions at the time — not least those outlined in a new book edited by Carsten Stahn and Henning Melber — Peace Diplomacy, Global Justice and International Agency: Rethinking Human Security and Ethics in the Spirit of Dag Hammarskjöld.
Speaking in London last month, Henning indicated that he thought Hammarskjöld’s actions at that time were informed by a desire to keep the UN neutral or impartial, and outside of the Congo’s political landscape.
But given the historical importance of the UN’s role, it will be fascinating to see if De Witte’s new book, which will cover the period between 1964-65 in the Congo, especially the rebellions and the Mobutu coup in 1965, will add fresh dynamics to this debate.
The book will come out in Dutch later this year and in French and English translations in 2015.
By: Stephen Williams