The UN mission in Central African Republic (CAR) fired one of its lawyers after he accused Rwandan peacekeepers of massacring 30 civilians in Bangui last month and said they could be investigated.
Juan Branco signed on with the UN mission (MINUSCA) on May 15 to advise a new Special Criminal Court charged with investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Franco-Spanish lawyer previously represented Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.
The UN-backed court is due to begin formal investigations next week despite questions about how effective it can be when government does not control vast swaths of the conflict-ravaged country.
In a letter dated May 28 and provided by Branco to Reuters, MINUSCA’s human resources department told Branco tweets he wrote after signing his contract violated a prohibition against actions “that may adversely affect the interests of the United Nations”.
“The consultant agreed and acknowledged … that any breach of any of the provisions of the contract shall constitute a breach of an essential term of the contract and gives rise to grounds for terminating the contract,” it said.
In one tweet, Branco wrote Rwandan peacekeepers “massacred more than 30 civilians and wounded 100 others without any justification”, referring to clashes on April 10 in the capital Bangui’s PK5 neighbourhood.
The deaths infuriated local residents, who laid the bodies of at least 16 people at the entrance to the MINUSCA base. The United Nations said at the time the people they killed were armed by criminal gangs.
Rwanda’s minister of state in the ministry of foreign affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told Reuters he was not aware of any such accusations against Rwandan peacekeepers.
“It sounds like that person is the kind who says whatever he wants, which is the reason why he is … getting fired,” he said.
In an email to a UN legal officer contesting his firing, Branco accused MINUSCA of trying to cover up a massacre.
He said the dismissal was motivated by a letter he wrote to the court’s special prosecutor and MINUSCA’s top judicial affairs officer the day before saying it was possible the court would investigate alleged crimes by UN peacekeepers.
In the email, which Branco provided to Reuters, he denied his contract restricted him from publicly expressing opinions or that his actions ran contrary to the interests of the United Nations.
“Denouncing crimes, without breaking any confidentiality obligations, is a requirement for anyone and in particular for those in charge of fighting them,” he wrote.
A MINUSCA spokesman said in a statement to Reuters “commenting publicly about responsibility for crimes, even before he arrived in the country, is behaviour clearly unacceptable for someone contracted to aid in the operationalisation of a special court”.
MINUSCA has more than 12,000 armed personnel deployed in Central African Republic, where hundreds of civilians died since 2013 in conflict fought largely along religious lines and scores more have been raped and tortured.