There can be few events in contemporary African history as important as the death of Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations Secretary-General. Hammarskjold was working tirelessly to resolve a crisis in the Congo. He is generally recognised as perhaps the most effective Secretary General in UN history. Driven by a deep-seated humanitarian instinct, the man's quest for justice and the integrity of newly independent African countries won him many admirers.
But it also won him many enemies, especially amongst those clinging to white supremacy, and existing corporate interests--those that clearly saw their privilege and wealth endangered by Hammarskjold's support for Africa's liberation.
The mysterious air crash that took Hammarskjold's life, along with those of 15 fellow passengers flying from the Congo's capital (Leopoldville, now Kinshasa) to the Northern Rhodesian (now Zambian) city of Ndola for a meeting with Moise Tshombe, leader of the Congo's secessionist Katanga province, has attracted much speculation. Was it an accident? Was it assassination? At the time, the UN's own inquiry was unable to reach a conclusion so the international body left the matter open, adjourning its proceedings until more evidence came to light. In an attempt to gather together such evidence, the Hammarskjold Commission has issued a report to present to the UN. Last month (September), New African's Stephen Williams attended the Hammarskjold Commission report of the Commission's Inquiry, released in The Hague, the Netherland's capital. He summarises proceedings for BHM.
Just over 52 years ago, on the night of 1718 September 1961, a Swedish aircraft, the Albertina, carrying 16 people, one of them the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, crashed into a forested area near Ndola in what was then Northern Rhodesia and is now Zambia. All those aboard the aircraft died, 15 at the scene of the crash and one later, succumbing to his injuries in hospital.
A civil aviation inquiry, held immediately after the event, was unable to ascribe a cause to the crash; a Rhodesian commission of inquiry in February 1962 attributed it to pilot error; and the UN's own commission of inquiry in April 1962, like the civil aviation investigation, found itself unable to determine the cause of the crash but presciently adjourned the inquiry rather than close it.
The UN inquiry's report was presented to the General Assembly in October 1962. The report requested the Secretary-General to inform the UN General Assembly of any new evidence relating to the disaster. Various conjectures and conspiracy theories concerning this incident have circulated in the intervening years. Was it an accident, as the Rhodesian inquiry concluded citing pilot error; or was it an assassination? If the latter, who could have been responsible and can anybody, 50 years after the event, be held accountable?
Many who have investigated the incident have pondered long and hard over these questions. Two years ago, we drew attention to Dr Susan Williams' book, Who Killed Hammarskjold? And as part of our Black History Month issue, New African published a lengthy extract from this important work of painstaking investigation.
While Williams' book offered no conclusive evidence of the murder of Hammarskjold, most readers would have drawn the inference that crucial questions required answers as the balance of probabilities were that the Secretary-General's death was no accident, at least not in the conventional sense.
One reader of Williams' book was the eminent British trade unionist, Lord Lea of Crondall. Lea is a former assistant secretary-general of the UK Trades Union Congress and co-founder and vice-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Africa since 2002. He told New African that he already had an interest in that period of Central Africa's history and the life of the Congo's first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, as well as Hammarskjold's UN work. Lea had also served as an election monitor in the DR Congo in 2007.
In July 2012, Lea decided to organise the Hammarskjold Inquiry Trust, made up of eight senior diplomats, church leaders, lawyers and academics, including Dr Susan Williams. Two Africans were among the eight trustees: H. E. Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth secretary-general and Professor Naison Ngoma, director of the Dag Hammarskjold Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at the Copperbelt University in Kitwe, Zambia.
The Hammarskjold Inquiry Trust, in turn, invited Sir Stephen Sedley, a recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal for England and Wales, to chair a commission of jurists to inquire into the disaster. This commission included Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, as well as Justice Wilhelm ma Thomassen of the Netherlands and Ambassador Hans Corell of Sweden. They agreed to serve with Sir Stephen as Commissioners.
The Commission's agreed remit was, working completely independently of the Trust, to report on whether the evidence now available would justify the UN's General Assembly in reopening the inquiry it had adjourned in 1962. (The Commission did not seek itself to determine the cause or causes of the crash of Hammarskjold's plane).
The Commission released their report at The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands last month (September). The 50-page document is meticulously written and carefully concludes that, yes, there is sufficient new evidence for the...