New UN report on Khashoggi murder

The U.N. human rights expert leading an independent inquiry into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi said Ton hursday that Saudi Arabia had “seriously curtailed and undermined” Turkey’s attempts to investigate Khashoggi’s killing in the Saudi Consulate in October 2018.

Background

Jamal Khashoggi was one of the Arab world’s most prominent journalists and commentators. He has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States for the past year. Mr. Khashoggi was part of the Saudi elite, close to members of the royal family, and former adviser to Turki al-Faisal, a Saudi intelligence chief who became Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain and America. Khashoggi was a critic of the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman. He authored a regular column for the Washington Post and was in the inner circle of countless diplomats and journalists. For over a year he used his influence to criticise the growing repression in Saudi Arabia and to urge an end to the war in Yemen.

On 2 October, he disappeared in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul. In the two weeks since he disappeared, Turkish officials have searched the Saudi embassy, and the United States has issued a versatile series of statements, from threatening severe punishment if Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, to speculating that “rogue killers” could be responsible.

The crown prince has been known for reforms he has pushed to make Saudi Arabia appear more “stable and progressive” to draw investors into the Saudi tech industry. He has plans to reorient the Saudi economy away from oil and towards technology.

Analysis

The comments by Agnes Callamard, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, added weight to Turkey’s repeated assertions that Saudi Arabia had thwarted the work of Turkish investigators by limiting their access to Saudi diplomatic facilities and refusing to reveal the location of Khashoggi’s remains. The expert released preliminary findings of her team’s inquiry on Thursday, after a week-long fact-finding mission to Turkey that ended on Sunday.

“Evidence collected during my mission to Turkey shows prima facie case that Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia,” she said in a statement. “Woefully inadequate time and access was granted to Turkish investigators to conduct a professional and effective crime-scene examination and search required by international standards for investigation,” Callamard said.

 In the year before his death, Khashoggi had contributed columns to The Washington Post that were sometimes critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s day-to-day ruler. On Oct. 2, after Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would allow him to remarry, he was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents who were waiting for him inside the mission, according to Turkish and Saudi prosecutors.

The CIA concluded with medium-to-high confidence that Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing because he was a high-profile critic. Saudi officials have rejected that assertion, saying the team of Saudi agents in Istanbul had disobeyed orders to bring Khashoggi home alive and planned his murder on its own.

Callamard said she initiated her investigation on her own because the United Nations had been unwilling to pursue an international criminal investigation. Her four-person team has no authority to bring criminal charges and will present the findings of its investigation to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2019.

In Turkey, Callamard’s team met with senior Turkish officials, including Istanbul’s chief prosecutor and the head of Turkish intelligence. The team was “given access to some crucial information about Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, including to parts of the chilling and gruesome audio material obtained and retained by the Turkish Intelligence agency,” Callamard’s statement said.

Callamard’s team was not able to meet with some Turkish investigators who had been working on the case and called on Turkey to “promptly fulfill their pledge to provide access to forensic, scientific and police reports.” Callamard had also sought access to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and made a request to visit Saudi Arabia, according to a spokesman. Her statement on Thursday did not say whether the Saudi authorities had granted either of those requests.

Assessment

Our assessment is that the murder itself remains a mystery with no credible theory on where Mr. Khasoggi’s body is and how was he murdered. We believe that a UN report carries a lot of importance, especially in matters that transcend national boundaries.

 

Image courtesy: April Brady / POMED, Jamal Khashoggi in March 2018, CC BY 2.0