The Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the United Nations Association Westminster, hosted a day-long conference on 29 February 2024 to review:

  • the progress that has been made by the current UN investigation – led by Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, formerly Chief Justice of Tanzania – into the 1961 plane crash near Ndola in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) that killed UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and fifteen others;
  • and to identify next steps to assist the investigation.

You can view and download the event programme here.

Stephen D Mathias, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, attended the conference and gave a paper.

As a result of further research since the publication of Who Killed Hammarskjöld? (2011) and the significant progress made by Justice Othman’s investigation, the explanation of pilot error – as concluded by the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry in 1962 – has been discredited. Justice Othman stated in his 2022 report:

From the totality of the information at hand, it appears plausible that an external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash, whether by way of a direct attack … or by distracting the pilots at the critical stage of preparing to land.”

Many of the speakers at the conference brought serious allegations against the UK and US governments for obstructing Justice Othman’s investigation and concluded that its mandate should be extended when it expires in September 2024. Renewing the mandate would provide the opportunity for him to commission or make use of new research into such sources as the archives of the multi-national mining companies operating in and around the Congolese province of Katanga at the time of the crash. It would also provide the opportunity for the UK and US governments to undertake proper and rigorous searches of their security and intelligence archives.

In the course of the conference, contrasts were drawn between the approaches to the investigation by the US and some of the former European colonial powers on the one hand, and many of the countries of the Global South on the other, who have consistently sponsored UN resolutions in support of the UN investigation.      

The conference was attended in-person and followed online worldwide. Links are provided here to the programme and below to the papers delivered by the majority of the speakers and to recordings of the papers being delivered, and to subsequent questions and answers among the conference participants. Please note that the abbreviation ‘P’ is used for a paper, and ‘R’ for a recording.    


The conference was introduced jointly by Professor Kingsley Abbott, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study (P01, R01), and Her Excellency Ms Macenje Florence Mazoka, High Commissioner for the Republic of Zambia to the UK (P02, R02). In the course of his introduction, Professor Abbott showed a recording of a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the UN in 2023 to commemorate Hammarskjöld’s death, in which UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated his full commitment to the investigation.

This was followed by a recording of a BBC World Service interview in 2011 with Mama Chibesa Kankasa (Zambia’s Minister for Women’s Affairs 1969-88), who witnessed the arrival of Hammarskjöld’s plane in the sky near Ndola shortly before it crashed; and a paper by Sir Stephen Sedley, a former judge of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and chair of the independent Hammarskjöld Commission (2012-13) (P03A). Dr Stuart Mole, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, introduced the interview with Mama Kankasa and read aloud Sir Stephen’s paper (P03B, R3).     

Dr Henning Melber, Director Emeritus, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Uppsala, also Institute of Commonwealth Studies, spoke about the policy change within Sweden from passivity to activism in the cause of the investigation (P04, R04), and Dr Alanna O’Malley, Associate Professor, Institute for History at Leiden University discussed the political context in which Hammarskjöld was operating in 1961, and the issue of the lone Fouga jet in the skies above Katanga in the weeks before his death (R05). This was followed by questions to Dr Mole, Dr Melber, and Dr O’Malley (R06).

The Keynote Address to the conference was given by Ambassador Jan Eliasson, former UN Deputy Secretary-General and Swedish Foreign Minister, who spoke about the inspirational role of Hammarskjöld in international relations and the importance of the current UN investigation into Hammarskjöld’s death (R07).

Dr Roger Lipsey, author of Hammarskjöld. A Life (2013), spoke about the enduring legacy of Hammarskjöld’s life and the higher duty of creative action that he exemplified (P08, R08)

Dr Thant Myint-U, University of Cambridge, spoke about U Thant and the Congo crisis of 1960 – 1964, providing context for the first investigations into Hammarskjöld’s death. 

Dr Mandy Banton, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, discussed the UK government’s responses to Justice Othman’s requests to the UK government for information (P09, R09).  

Rt Revd Dr Trevor Musonda Mwamba, President, United National Independence Party of Zambia, spoke about the importance of Hammarskjöld the peacemaker and his relevance to global concerns today (P10, R10)

Maurin Picard, US correspondent, Le Figaro and Le Soir, discussed the roles of French policy makers and mercenaries at the time of Hammarskjöld’s death (P11, R11).

Dr Susan Williams, Institute of Commonwealth Studies and author of Who Killed Hammarskjöld? (2011), discussed the US administration’s response to the current UN investigation (P12, R12)

Stephen D Mathias, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, spoke about the current UN investigation and the Secretary-General’s personal commitment to uncovering the truth (P13, R13)

David Wardrop, chair of UNA Westminster and Editor of hammarskjö, summarised the obstacles facing the UN investigation and identified next steps (P14, R14). This was followed by questions emerging from the papers by Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Mathias and Dr Williams (R15).

The presentations were followed by a wide-ranging Round Table discussion (R16), chaired by the Rt Hon the Lord (Paul) Boateng, former UK High Commissioner to South Africa, with opening contributions from Joe Lauria, Editor of Consortium News and former UN correspondent at The Wall Street Journal, Dr Melber, Dr O’Malley, and Maurin Picard. The discussion identified untapped archival sources for investigation. Lord Boateng has drawn attention to the collective conclusion of the conference that the mandate for the current UN investigation should be renewed:

The work must continue because it is part of a wider struggle to support democracy, the international rule of law, and the UN, all under increasing threat. There must be no stone unturned to get at the truth. The suspected murder of a UN Secretary General is a crime too grave to be obliterated by time.”


Introduction by Professor Kingsley Abbott
Her Excellency Ms Macenje Florence Mazoka
Dr Stuart Mole, Mama Chibesa Kankasa and Sir Stephen Sedley
Dr Henning Melber
Dr Alanna O’Malley
Question & Answer Session I
Keynote Address by Ambassador Jan Eliasson
Dr Roger Lipsey
Dr Mandy Banton Rt Revd Dr Trevor Musonda Mwamba
Maurin Picard Dr Susan Williams
Stephen D Mathias, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs David Wardrop
Question & Answer Session II Round Table chaired by Lord Boateng