Susan Williams

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Dr Susan Williams of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at London University

Susan Williams is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. She has published widely on Africa, decolonisation and the global power shifts of the twentieth century, receiving widespread acclaim for "Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation" (Penguin, 2006), her book on the founding President of Botswana. Other recent books include "The People’s King: The True Story of the Abdication" (Penguin, 2003) and "Ladies of Influence" (Penguin, 2000), as well as edited volumes including "The Iconography of Independence: ‘Freedoms at Midnight’" (Routledge 2009).

Dr Susan Williams' latest book "Who Killed Hammarskjöld?" (Hurst 2011) assembled a significant body of new evidence to suggest that the 1961 plane crash in which Dag Hammarskjöld died was not an accident. On the strength of which, the Hammarskjöld Commission was established in 2012, and recommended in September 2013 that the adjourned 1962 UN Inquiry into Dag Hammarskjöld's death be reopened to examine the new evidence assembled by Dr Williams.

On 11 February 2014, the UN Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC) reported that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had written to the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) requesting that the Hammarskjöld Commission's report should be included in the agenda of UNGA's current session since "new evidence has come to his attention."[1]

In early April 2014, following the declassification of a secret telegram sent to Washington in 1961 by Ed Gullion, the US Ambassador to the Congo, Jan van Risseghem was identified as the pilot of a Katangese jet which allegedly shot down the Douglas DC-6 aircraft carrying United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld on 18 September 1961.[2]

On 19 May 2014, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that, because of the weight of evidence uncovered by Dr Susan Williams, UNGA had put the Hammarskjöld case on its agenda for discussion during its current session at a date to be arranged. As a result, a draft resolution to reopen the adjourned 1962 UN Inquiry could then be put to a vote by the General Assembly.[3]

Who Killed Hammarskjöld?

Dr Susan Williams' 2011 book "Who Killed Hammarskjöld?"

Between 1962 and 2011, a number of books, reports and papers were published concerning the background, circumstances and cause of the plane crash in which Dag Hammarskjöld was killed. In 2011, the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the crash, Dr Susan Williams’ book "Who Killed Hammarskjöld? (The UN, The Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa)" was published. It offered no definite answer to its own question, but it marshalled a striking quantity of evidential material which had come to light in the intervening years.[4]

Hurst Publishers provided the following overview:

One of the outstanding mysteries of the twentieth century, and one with huge political resonance, is the death of Dag Hammarskjöld and his UN team in a plane crash in central Africa in 1961. Just minutes after midnight, his aircraft plunged into thick forest in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), abruptly ending his mission to bring peace to the Congo. Many around the world suspected sabotage, accusing multinationals and the governments of Britain, Belgium, the USA and South Africa of involvement in the disaster. These suspicions have never gone away.
Susan Williams argues that the official inquiry by the Rhodesian government was a massive cover-up that suppressed and dismissed a mass of crucial evidence pointing to foul play. Who Killed Hammarskjöld? follows the author on her intriguing and often frightening research, which unearthed a mass of new and hitherto secret documentary and photographic evidence.
At the heart of this book is Hammarskjöld himself – a courageous and complex idealist, who sought to shield the newly independent nations of the world from the predatory instincts of the Great Powers. It reveals that the conflict in the Congo was driven not so much by internal divisions, as by the Cold War and by the West’s determination to keep real power from the hands of the post-colonial governments of Africa. It shows, too, that the British settlers of Rhodesia would maintain white minority rule at all costs.[5]


‘[Williams] has done a fine job of marshalling new evidence and painting a vivid picture of a past era of Rhodesian colonists in long socks and white shorts, and of Cold War politics played out through vicious proxy wars in Africa.’ — Sunday Times
‘Part detective, part archivist, part journalist, Williams schmoozed spies, befriended diplomats and mercenaries and won the trust of Hammarskjöld’s still grieving relatives and UN colleagues to get her tale. She unwinds each thread of the narrative with infinite patience, leading us carefully down the tortuous paths of Cold War intrigue.’ — The Spectator
‘A startling, meticulous, convincing book, written in the understated prose of a Scandinavian crime thriller.’ — Simon Kuper, The Financial Times
‘Susan Williams' fascinating book explores the unresolved issues surrounding his death in a plane crash in central Africa. With the help of her engaging and no-nonsense style – part Miss Marple, part No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – we are led through the messy, ugly and secretive dark arts of decolonisation in a world of white supremacists and Cold War lunatics. Kids: don’t try this at home.’ — Times Higher Education
‘This welcome, and highly readable, historical detective story sheds yet more mystery on the sad fate of Dag Hammarskjöld, arguably the most significant and influential UN Secretary-General. What the book does very well, through extremely thorough research of an international nature, is to highlight the controversies surrounding the crash and the numerous investigations into it. This is an important piece of research. It should be read by all those concerned with the activities of right-wing politicians and businessmen and their links to mercenaries, intelligence operations and European economic dominance in the post-independence Congo; and by those concerned with whoever may have been responsible for Hammarskjöld’s death and the weakening of the UN.’ — International Affairs
‘This engaging book marks a concerted effort to explore the historical mysteries that shroud the UN Secretary-General’s death. This is a fascinating, meticulously researched, and easy-to-read study of the events surrounding the episode.’ — African Affairs
‘Susan Williams' impressive probing draws together previously secret archived material and witness statements never before aired. The book is rigorously academic, with intensive referencing and quotes from expert informants, but it is also an intriguing whodunnit, albeit one with particularly sombre connotations,’ — The Canberra Times
‘Susan Williams has produced a compelling account from a monumental amount of historical detective work and encounters with an extraordinary range of personalities, some of them extremely shady.’ — The Witness (South Africa)
‘The death of Dag Hammarskjöld is a major historical puzzle: in this meticulously researched and gripping account Susan Williams has left very few stones unturned in her attempt to unravel it. After reviewing both old and much new evidence she makes a compelling case for a fresh enquiry with full disclosure.’ — James Mayall, Sir Patrick Sheehy Professor of International Relations, University of Cambridge
‘If you want to read a work of serious, well-researched history as exciting as a James Bond novel, this important book, which vividly conveys the tumultuous decolonisation of the Congo, is the one for you.’ –– Gérard Prunier, author of "From Genocide to Continental War: The ‘Congolese’ Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa"
‘A short, taut and highly readable account of Hammarskjöld’s death that suggests strongly that the Secretary-General was the victim of a conspiracy hatched by some supporters of continued white domination in central Africa. This is a rivetingly good read and is exceptionally well researched.’ — Stephen Ellis, Professor of African Studies, Free University of Amsterdam, and author, "Season of Rains: Africa and the World"
‘The book reads like a thriller, as the author pursues archives, interviews and thousands of documents to find clues to the murder of a man who, according to the British and Belgians, died in an aircraft accident.’ — Jamaica Observer
‘Williams has done remarkable research … to gallantly demonstrate that the UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa, directly or indirectly, caused Hammarskjold’s crash. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Congo and decolonisation; it is very well researched, lucidly written and provides an alternative point of view to a subject that Europe refuses to claim responsibility for.’ — African Studies Bulletin
‘…fascinating book…’ — Philip Muehlenbeck, New Internationalist
‘This is an extraordinary story, narrated with clarity and devastating effect. Susan Williams is to be congratulated for shining a light onto a very strange and disturbing incident. The result is a gripping and astonishing read.’ — Alexander McCall Smith, novelist, author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series
‘The author’s scrupulous research shines through this book’s carefully argued narrative. All the evidence she uncovers points to the Hammarskjöld plane crash being the culmination of an assassination plot — and put into current context - with Congo peace talks breaking down at the AU in Addis Ababa, it is a story that continues to unfold.’ — Stephen Williams, African Business
‘Utilizing primary source documents from at least nine countries across three continents, numerous oral history interviews with eye witnesses, and enlisting the help of forensic, ballistic, and medical experts to reexamine the written reports and photographic evidence compiled by the original Rhodesian and UN inquiries into the crash, Williams has authored a fascinating study which is as academic as any international history scholarship and as entertaining as any mystery novel … ‘This book should be on the summer reading list of all historians.’ — H-Diplo

One-day conference

A one-day conference to mark the 50th anniversary of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s death was held at the University of London, Senate House, on Friday 2 September 2011 to discuss "Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations, and the End of Empire." The Convenors were Dr Mandy Banton and Dr Susan Williams of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London.[6] Participants included:

Professor Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies,
Dr Henning Melber, Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
David Wardrop, Chairman, United Nations Association, Westminster Branch
Dr Sarah Stockwell, Senior Lecturer in Imperial and Commonwealth History, King's College London
Professor David Anderson, Professor of African Politics and Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, 'The Cold War in Africa'
Professor Wm. Roger Louis, CBE, Kerr Professor of English History and Culture and Director of British Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, 'Hammarskjöld, the United Nations, and the Middle East'
Dr Benjamin Zachariah, Reader in South Asian History, University of Sheffield, 'The place of the United Nations in Indian foreign policy thinking'
David Wardrop, Chairman, United Nations Association (UNA) Westminster Branch
Dr Jean-Pierre Bat, University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and Centre d’étude des mondes africains (CEMAf), 'De Gaulle, Algeria and Françafrique'
Dr Asahiko Hanzawa, Faculty of International Studies, Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo, 'An invisible surrender: the United Nations and the end of the British empire'
Ludo De Witte, Brussels, author of De Moord op Lumumba, 1999 [published in English as 'The Assassination of Lumumba', 2001], 'Belgium, the Congo, and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba'
Dr Marion Wallace, African Curator, British Library
Dr Edward Hampshire, Principal Records Specialist, Diplomatic and Colonial, The National Archives of the UK, 'The British official record'
Declan Power, security and defence journalist, Dublin, 'The use of oral history to uncover the voices of Irish peacekeepers in the Congo'
Hans Kristian Simensen, Gothenburg, Secretary to the Scandinavian Committee of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 'Ndola, 18 September: from witness statements to the official reports; more questions'
Professor Manuel Fröhlich, Professor of Political Science, Friedrich-Schiller-University, Jena
Lord Douglas Hurd of Westwell CH CBE PC diplomat, historian and former British Foreign Secretary

Enabling Committee

In response to Dr Williams’ book, Lord Lea of Crondall assembled an eight-person international Enabling Committee - on which Susan Williams served - and which, in 2012, set up the Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust inviting Sir Stephen Sedley, a recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal for England and Wales, to chair the Hammarskjöld Commission of jurists to inquire into the disaster. Justice Wilhelmina Thomassen of the Netherlands, Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa and Ambassador Hans Corell of Sweden agreed to serve with Sir Stephen as Commissioners. All have worked without remuneration.[7]

Report of the Hammarskjöld Commission

The 61-page Hammarskjöld Commission Report was presented on 9 September 2013 in the Historical Reading Room of the Peace Palace at The Hague in the Netherlands. The presentation meeting was chaired by the director of the Carnegie Foundation, Steven van Hoogstraten. The report was introduced by the Chairman of the Commission (Sir Stephen Sedley) and presented to the Chairman of the Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust, Lord Lea of Crondall.[8] It recommended that the adjourned 1962 UN Inquiry into Dag Hammarskjöld's death be reopened to examine the new evidence assembled by Dr Susan Williams in her book "Who Killed Hammarskjöld?".

Petitioning for a UN Inquiry

In November 2013, former diplomat Patrick Haseldine created an e-petition calling upon the British Government to:

"Support a United Nations Inquiry into the deaths of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and UN Assistant Secretary-General Bernt Carlsson"

The e-petition was open for signature by UK citizens and residents until 13 May 2014, when it closed with 56 signers.[9]

David Cameron laying a wreath at the Lockerbie Memorial in Dryfesdale Cemetery on a 2-day visit to Scotland in May 2014

On 29 April 2014, Haseldine created this international e-petition, addressing it to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

"Take action to investigate the deaths of UN Officials Dag Hammarskjöld and Bernt Carlsson!"
"'Who Killed Hammarskjöld?', the recent book by British academic Dr Susan Williams, concluded that the plane crash in which UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld died on 18 September 1961 was not an accident. The London-based Hammarskjöld Commission published its report on 9 September 2013 and recommended that the adjourned 1962 UN Inquiry into the crash should now be reopened because Dr Williams had uncovered 'significant new evidence'.
"'The How, Why and Who of Pan Am Flight 103', published in July 2013 by the petition creator Patrick Haseldine, alleged that UN Assistant Secretary-General Bernt Carlsson - the highest profile victim on Pan Am 103 - was in fact the target of the Lockerbie bombing of 21 December 1988.
"On 11 February 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote to the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) asking for the Hammarskjöld Commission's report to be included in the agenda of UNGA's current session. Ban Ki-moon should now propose extending the remit of the new UN Inquiry to cover the deaths of the two UN Officials Dag Hammarskjöld and Bernt Carlsson."

Within three weeks, the petition had attracted 46 signers from over a dozen countries.[10]