[News] War-crimes charges to be filed 50 years after Lumumba's assassination

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 17 14:11:35 EST 2011

War-crimes charges to be filed 50 years after Lumumba's assassination
(Today marks the day - 2 articles Follow)

By Slobodan Lekic (CP) – 1 hour ago

BRUSSELS ­ Activists plan to file a civil suit 
alleging war crimes by a dozen former Belgian 
officials they say participated in the 
assassination of Congolese prime minister Patrice 
Lumumba 50 years ago, a Brussels lawyer who heads the legal team said Monday.

Lumumba headed Congo's largest political party 
and was elected prime minister when Belgium 
granted independence to the country on June 30, 
1960, after almost a century of colonial rule. 
Many in the West viewed the charismatic prime 
minister as a dangerous radical because he wanted 
to nationalize the new country's lucrative, 
Belgian-owned gold, copper and uranium mining industry.

The killing made Lumumba an anti-colonial martyr 
and a liberation symbol to many Africans and 
Asians. It inspired revolutionaries from South 
Africa and Cuba to Vietnam and Algeria.

"We want the case against the officials 
implicated in the murder to be airtight," said 
historian Ludo De Witte, who blamed the Belgian 
government for the killing in a 1999 book and is 
part of the group of activists.

A Belgian parliamentary probe determined in 2002 
that the government was "morally responsible" for 
Lumumba's death. Brussels officially apologized 
for its role in his death but refused to pay 
compensation to his family or to prosecute those involved.

A U.S. Senate committee found in 1975 that the 
U.S. administration had also hatched a separate 
plan to kill the Congolese leader because 
Washington viewed the leftist leader as a potential threat.

Congo's production of weapons-grade uranium 
vastly raised the stakes for the United States, 
which had used Congolese uranium to build the two 
atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

Christophe Marchand, who heads the legal team, 
said the suit, which was originally supposed to 
have been submitted to the court in June, was 
delayed due to volume of archives that had to be studied.

"There was an enormous mass of documents we 
needed to consult, including reports of 
commissions of inquiry both in Belgium and the 
United States, in order to establish the facts," he said.

Marchand said the complaint will be refiled "in 
coming weeks." He refused to name any of the 
officials they planned to implicate.

On Sunday, several hundred demonstrators rallied 
around the statue of King Leopold II, who 
colonized Congo in the mid-19th century. 
Belgium's harsh rule caused the deaths of between 
four million and eight million Congolese.

"We want the truth about the assassination, we 
want justice done after 50 years, and we want 
Belgium to pay reparations for the consequences 
the assassination caused," said Jean Marie Luhahi 
Mongo, one of the organizers of the rally.

Historians agree that top Belgian officials and 
officers conspired to overthrow Lumumba and 
organized his execution Jan. 17, 1961. The death 
ushered in the long, corrupt dictatorship of 
Congo's western-backed leader Mobutu Sese Seko, 
who was finally overthrown in 1997.

The Belgian army captain who commanded the firing 
squad, was given a new name and secretly 
transferred to the Belgian brigade in West Germany to avoid public exposure.

Lumumba was hastily buried after the execution. 
But Belgian policemen later dug up the corpse, 
dissolved it in acid and crushed the remaining 
bones to avoid turning the grave into a pilgrimage site.

Copyright © 2011 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

An Assassination’s Long Shadow



San Francisco

TODAY, millions of people on another continent 
are observing the 50th anniversary of an event 
few Americans remember, the assassination of 
Patrice Lumumba. A slight, goateed man with 
black, half-framed glasses, the 35-year-old 
Lumumba was the first democratically chosen 
leader of the vast country, nearly as large as 
the United States east of the Mississippi, now 
known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This treasure house of natural resources had been 
a colony of Belgium, which for decades had made 
no plans for independence. But after clashes with 
Congolese nationalists, the Belgians hastily 
arranged the first national election in 1960, and 
in June of that year King Baudouin arrived to 
formally give the territory its freedom.

“It is now up to you, gentlemen,” he arrogantly 
told Congolese dignitaries, “to show that you are worthy of our confidence.”

The Belgians, and their European and American 
fellow investors, expected to continue collecting 
profits from Congo’s factories, plantations and 
lucrative mines, which produced diamonds, gold, 
uranium, copper and more. But they had not planned on Lumumba.

A dramatic, angry speech he gave in reply to 
Congolese legislators to their feet cheering, 
left the king startled and frowning and caught 
the world’s attention. Lumumba spoke forcefully 
of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, 
from the ruthless theft of African land to the 
way that French-speaking colonists talked to 
Africans as adults do to children, using the 
familiar “tu” instead of the formal “vous.” 
Political independence was not enough, he said; 
Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.

With no experience of self-rule and an empty 
treasury, his huge country was soon in turmoil. 
After failing to get aid from the United States, 
Lumumba declared he would turn to the Soviet 
Union. Thousands of Belgian officials who 
lingered on did their best to sabotage things: 
their code word for Lumumba in military radio 
transmissions was “Satan.” Shortly after he took 
office as prime minister, the C.I.A., with White 
House approval, ordered his assassination and 
dispatched an undercover agent with poison.

The would-be poisoners could not get close enough 
to Lumumba to do the job, so instead the United 
States and Belgium covertly funneled cash and aid 
to rival politicians who seized power and 
arrested the prime minister. Fearful of revolt by 
Lumumba’s supporters if he died in their hands, 
the new Congolese leaders ordered him flown to 
the copper-rich Katanga region in the country’s 
south, whose secession Belgium had just helped 
orchestrate. There, on Jan. 17, 1961, after being 
beaten and tortured, he was shot. It was a 
chilling moment that set off street demonstrations in many countries.

As a college student traveling through Africa on 
summer break, I was in Léopoldville (today’s 
Kinshasa), Congo’s capital, for a few days some 
six months after Lumumba’s murder. There was an 
air of tension and gloom in the city, jeeps full 
of soldiers were on patrol, and the streets 
quickly emptied at night. Above all, I remember 
the triumphant, macho satisfaction with which two 
young American Embassy officials ­ much later 
identified as C.I.A. men ­ talked with me over 
drinks about the death of someone they regarded 
not as an elected leader but as an upstart enemy of the United States.

Some weeks before his death, Lumumba had briefly 
escaped from house arrest and, with a small group 
of supporters, tried to flee to the eastern 
Congo, where a counter-government of his 
sympathizers had formed. The travelers had to 
traverse the Sankuru River, after which friendly 
territory began. Lumumba and several companions 
crossed the river in a dugout canoe to commandeer 
a ferry to go back and fetch the rest of the 
group, including his wife and son.

But by the time they returned to the other bank, 
government troops pursuing them had arrived. 
According to one survivor, Lumumba’s famous 
eloquence almost persuaded the soldiers to let 
them go. Events like this are often burnished in 
retrospect, but however the encounter happened, 
Lumumba seems to have risked his life to try to 
rescue the others, and the episode has found its way into film and fiction.

His legend has only become deeper because there 
is painful newsreel footage of him in captivity, 
soon after this moment, bound tightly with rope 
and trying to retain his dignity while being roughed up by his guards.

Patrice Lumumba had only a few short months in 
office and we have no way of knowing what would 
have happened had he lived. Would he have stuck 
to his ideals or, like too many African 
independence leaders, abandoned them for the 
temptations of wealth and power? In any event, 
leading his nation to the full economic autonomy 
he dreamed of would have been an almost 
impossible task. The Western governments and 
corporations arrayed against him were too 
powerful, and the resources in his control too 
weak: at independence his new country had fewer 
than three dozen university graduates among a 
black population of more than 15 million, and 
only three of some 5,000 senior positions in the 
civil service were filled by Congolese.

A half-century later, we should surely look back 
on the death of Lumumba with shame, for we helped 
install the men who deposed and killed him. In 
the scholarly journal Intelligence and National 
Security, Stephen R. Weissman, a former staff 
director of the House Subcommittee on Africa, 
pointed out that Lumumba’s violent end 
foreshadowed today’s American practice of 
“extraordinary rendition.” The Congolese 
politicians who planned Lumumba’s murder checked 
all their major moves with their Belgian and 
American backers, and the local C.I.A. station 
chief made no objection when they told him they 
were going to turn Lumumba over ­ render him, in 
today’s parlance ­ to the breakaway government of 
Katanga, which, everyone knew, could be counted on to kill him.

Still more fateful was what was to come. Four 
years later, one of Lumumba’s captors, an army 
officer named Joseph Mobutu, again with 
enthusiastic American support, staged a coup and 
began a disastrous, 32-year dictatorship. Just as 
geopolitics and a thirst for oil have today 
brought us unsavory allies like Saudi Arabia, so 
the cold war and a similar lust for natural 
resources did then. Mobutu was showered with more 
than $1 billion in American aid and 
enthusiastically welcomed to the White House by a 
succession of presidents; George H. W. Bush 
called him “one of our most valued friends.”

This valued friend bled his country dry, amassed 
a fortune estimated at $4 billion, jetted the 
world by rented Concorde and bought himself an 
array of grand villas in Europe and multiple 
palaces and a yacht at home. He let public 
services shrivel to nothing and roads and 
railways be swallowed by the rain forest. By 
1997, when he was overthrown and died, his 
country was in a state of wreckage from which it has not yet recovered.

Since that time the fatal combination of enormous 
natural riches and the dysfunctional government 
Mobutu left has ignited a long, multisided war 
that has killed huge numbers of Congolese or 
forced them from their homes. Many factors cause 
a war, of course, especially one as bewilderingly 
complex as this one. But when visiting eastern 
Congo some months ago, I could not help but think 
that one thread leading to the human suffering I 
saw begins with the assassination of Lumumba.

We will never know the full death toll of the 
current conflict, but many believe it to be in 
the millions. Some of that blood is on our hands. 
Both ordering the murders of apparent enemies and 
then embracing their enemies as “valued friends” 
come with profound, long-term consequences ­ a 
lesson worth pondering on this anniversary.

Adam Hochschild is the author of “King Leopold’s 
Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in 
Colonial Africa” and the forthcoming “To End All 
Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.”

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