United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who was investigating journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, has said in her report that there is “credible evidence” against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high-level officials.
“The circumstances of Mr Khashoggi’s death have led to numerous theories and allegations, but none alters the responsibility of the Saudi Arabia State… Saudi state agents, 15 of them, acted under cover of their official status and used state means to execute Mr. Khashoggi,” said the report.
Callamard said Saudi Arabian officials have violated international law on six counts, calling for an independent and impartial inquiry that must meet international protocols and standards.
“His killing was a result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned, and endorsed by high-level officials. It was premeditated,” said Callamard.
She added that there is “credible evidence” warranting investigation into the role of the Crown Prince and other officials in the crime.
Saudi Arabian officials, however, have rejected Callamard’s report. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir tweeted strong criticism of Callamard’s investigation.
“The Rapporteur in the UNHRC repeats in her non-binding report what has been already published and circulated in the media. The report contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations,” he said.
He added that any calls for investigations other than the Saudi-led one is an affront to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s authority.
“We underscore that the Kingdom’s sovereignty and the jurisdiction of its judicial institutions cannot be compromised… We firmly reject any attempt to divert the case from the course of justice in the Kingdom or influence it in any manner,” he said.
Khashoggi murder: What really happened
Fifty-nine-year-old Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist covering topics like terrorism and politics. He was also an adviser to the Saudi government but migrated to the US voluntarily when he “fell out of favour” in Saudi Arabia.
He lived in Virginia and worked as a columnist for The Washington Post, writing critical articles against the Saudi prince and the country’s anti-dissent culture.
In 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Turkey because he needed to file divorce papers to marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz. In Istanbul, after he entered the embassy, he did not come back out.
After his disappearance, Cengiz wrote an article in the Post saying, “Jamal did not think the Saudis could force him to stay at the consulate in Turkey, even if they wanted to arrest him.” She added that after not hearing from Khashoggi for several hours, she feared for his life and called Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Turkish President Erdogan, for help.
President Erdogan confirmed to Cengiz that Saudi officials had murdered Khashoggi at the embassy. Khashoggi’s murder was particularly gruesome. He was attacked by a group of 15 men who first strangled him and then dismembered his body with a bone saw.
Turkish media circulated transcripts of the audio and video recordings of the killing, and conversations and noises during it. The document describes the sounds like:
Who were the perpetrators?
Officials identified in the recordings are Saudi intelligence officer Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb and Head of Forensic Medicine at the Interior Ministry Dr. Salah Muhammad al-Tubaiqi. Mutreb is said to have made three calls, assuring the recipient that the assigned task was done and al-Tubaiqi is heard advising the others to distract themselves with music while torturing Khashoggi.
As Mutreb is a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail and was heard confirming the murder to others, suspicions arose that Saudi officials at the highest level had ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
After news of Khashoggi’s murder broke, Saudi Arabia denied all knowledge of his whereabouts and claimed he had left the consulate safely. However, a Saudi television network reported that Khashoggi had been murdered in a “rogue operation”.
Then, a Saudi public prosecutor was appointed to look into the matter. The prosecutor said Khashoggi was drugged with a lethal injection and then murdered. The official charged 11 intelligence officers and officials with the crime.
The Saudi investigation also resulted in the firing of Deputy Intelligence Chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani.
In an attempt to bring credibility to Saudi Arabia’s investigation, Minister Adel al-Jubeir said human rights organisations from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, US, Russia, China, UK, and France were attending the Saudi-led trials as witnesses.
He added, “The Kingdom’s leadership ordered to carry out the necessary investigations, which led to the arrest of individuals indicted in the case. The investigations and trials are underway… We stress that Saudi judicial authorities are the sole competent authorities to hear this case and are exercising their competencies in total independence.”
Saudi Arabia’s attempts at damage control
Still, the international community had strong suspicions about the authenticity of the Saudi investigation. Turkey demanded the extradition of the 11 accused for a fair trial. But Saudi Arabia refused and said that it does not extradite its own citizens.
American intelligence agencies also discovered that the Prince was the kingpin of the murder operation.
Callamard herself said “the killing of Mr. Khashoggi was part of a well-evidenced pattern of killings, globally, of journalists, other human rights defenders, activists, and opponents of various regimes.”
Over the next few months, Saudi Arabia and the Prince himself tried to assuage guilt and responsibility through damage control measures.
One of them was the appointment of Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud as the Saudi convoy to the US. Princess Reema is the first Saudi woman ambassador to hold this position. Through Princess Reema, some have said that Saudi Arabia is attempting to project social progress.
The Saudi Crown Prince also made his maiden visit to India in February.
He met with PM Modi and then-external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. Delegations from Saudi Arabia and India held high-level talks on cooperation between trade, investment, energy, space research, and aviation.
The Prince also signed five MoUs on trade, tourism, housing, and information broadcasting and the Framework Agreement on the International Solar Alliance. He also agreed to invest $100 billion in India’s energy and agriculture industries.
Saudi Arabia even inserted itself into Indo-Pak relations by promising to mediate between both countries after escalations following the Pulwama terrorist attack.
Saudi Arabia said, “Dialogue is the only way to ensure peace and stability in the region.”
Independent investigation into Saudi Arabia?
Callamard said it was “troubling” that Khashoggi’s murder has been received in such a lax manner by other countries.
Hence, she has asked the Human Rights Council, the Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to “conduct an international follow-up criminal investigation for the purpose of determining individual liability and identifying options towards judicial accountability”.
Callamard added that sanctions some countries have imposed on the 17 accused Saudi Arabian nationals should continue.
She said, “They are important but insufficient. The crime committed was a State killing. These particular sanctions against 17 or more individuals act as a smokescreen, diverting attention away from State responsibility… The current sanctions also fail to address the central questions of chain of command and of senior leadership’s responsibilities for and associated with the execution.”
Callamard has asked Saudi Arabia to release any dissidents and to make structural changes to its institutions to ensure incidents like Khashoggi’s murder aren’t repeated. She has further recommended that the US and Turkey help strengthen UN bodies empowered to investigate such crimes.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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