Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, holds a news conference in Brussels. File picture: Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, holds a news conference in Brussels. File picture: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Is the mastermind behind Jamal Khashoggi's death getting away with murder?

By Anindita Ramaswamy Time of article published Dec 24, 2019

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Jamal Khashoggi's murder drew global outrage, but despite intelligence agencies concluding it could only have been ordered by the Saudi crown prince, a UN investigator says the masterminds have walked free. For now.

Istanbul - Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings who investigated the death of Jamal Khashoggi, is determined to ensure that no one - regardless of status or powerful connections - will get away with murder.

Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who was once close to the Saudi royal family, was murdered and dismembered inside his own consulate in Istanbul last year by a Saudi hit squad.

On Monday, a court in Riyadh sentenced five men to death for the journalist's killing. Callamard called the trial a "mockery" and spoke to dpa about her quest for justice.

dpa: Can you comment on the verdict and how any of it lines up with what you found in your investigation?

Callamard: I knew from the start that the trial will not focus on the chain of command, so there's nothing surprising in the verdict. I was expecting a verdict that would focus only on the hitmen and will target the "little people."

The chain of command has not been investigated ... Anyone above [alleged "execution squad" leader Maher] Mutreb is not the object of any sentencing or investigation.

... Those that carried out the killing have been found guilty of carrying out a killing. And those that ordered them to carry out the killing have not been worried by the trial, have not been charged and therefore are walking free.

That's not justice. That's impunity.

dpa: The trial has been shrouded in secrecy, but representatives from the UN Security Council's five permanent members and Turkey were present on Monday. What was behind the move to open it up?

Callamard: I will call that making the international community complicit in a miscarriage of justice, because by giving those countries' representatives access to the trial, Saudi Arabia is pretending to be open, but in fact what it is doing is bringing the Security Council into a process that is everything but fair.

I don't even have strong enough words to denounce what those five countries have done ... If they wanted to attend the trial then they should have negotiated to be able to speak openly about what they were witnessing.

Not only did they make themselves complicit in a miscarriage of justice in a trial that failed to tackle the chain of command, but they also have participated in a propaganda exercise.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain, in 2014. File picture: Hasan Jamali/AP

dpa: You've previously said justice for Khashoggi needs patience. What are the next steps after this trial? Is it the end of the road?

Callamard: In my report in June I said I don't expect justice to be delivered by and through Saudi Arabia. And we should not let justice for Jamal be held hostage to the vagaries of the Saudi judicial system.

dpa: What are the options?

Callamard: If we look at judicial processes, the options at the moment are three-fold:

* The United States, where Jamal was a resident. The US has some kind of jurisdiction over the killing. The FBI has the mandate to investigate. A civil lawsuit can be brought against Saudi Arabia and [recently] the US Congress adopted a resolution that demands that the head of the American intelligence services deliver a report on who ordered the killing.

* The Turkish authorities have the constitutional right to proceed with a trial in absentia ... They have investigated the killing for the last 12 months, they have a lot of information at their disposal - much more than has been made public and available to me. They must release all of their information, including the chain of command.

* The killing ... also is an international crime that attracts universal jurisdiction.

That means countries like France, Belgium, Spain, the UK, Germany ... have the jurisdiction to investigate and try any person associated with the killing and may be coming into their territory. And that could include Mohammed bin Salman, who at the moment is not head of state.

dpa: Are there other forms of accountability?

Callamard: One of them is to keep the issue on the agenda, to ensure that at every turn, every attempt by Saudi Arabia to buy itself a new reputation, by investing into culture and sport and art, and by buying people ... is denounced.

dpa: What happens to your own investigation and report? Is there an avenue for justice through the UN?

Callamard: I suggested a follow-up investigation into the chain of command. That, the UN so far, particularly the secretary general, has not done.

The member states have made some public statements - the statements I was expecting - but have not acted in accordance with their statements.

So the UN has been very disappointing.

I have asked that a [legal instrument] for the investigation of the targeted killing of journalists be established. It would allow for the UN to proceed with the investigation without making it a political issue.

dpa: What has blocked them - pressure from the US, from the Saudis? 

Callamard: Saudi Arabia has a great deal of influence - political, geostrategic, financial, economical. It's an important partner for many countries around the world, and it is a partner that few countries are prepared to challenge, unfortunately. In my view, it is an unreliable partner.

dpa: You've said Saudi Arabia shouldn't be allowed to host the G20 next year, but it will go ahead as planned.

Callamard: We can demand that the host of the G20 be King Salman rather than the crown prince. We can demand that during the G20 there are discussions held on press freedom and human rights in general.

What needs to be very clear is that the G20 in Riyadh will be instrumentalized by the country and we need to be prepared.

dpa

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