GENEVA — Demands for a U.N.-led independent investigation into the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi widened to international organizations that promote press freedom and human rights.
The organizations said Turkey should ask U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to launch “a timely, credible and transparent” investigation into the likely extrajudicial execution of Khashoggi, who vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.
An independent investigation led by the United Nations could determine Saudi Arabia’s role in Khashoggi’s disappearance and murder and who ordered, planned and carried it out, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.
“U.N. involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director.
Since Khashoggi vanished there have been many conflicting reports, including statements from Turkish and Saudi officials, about what may have occurred.
Saudi Arabia acknowledged the 59-year-old writer died inside the Saudi consulate at Istanbul, Turkey 17 days after he was last seen there. Saudi state television and state-run Saudi Press Agency reported 18 Saudi suspects were taken into custody.
The Saudi attorney general contended Khashoggi got into “a brawl and a fist fight” that had “led to his death” inside the consulate, contradicting Turkish media leaks that he was tortured, killed and dismembered.
U.N. human rights chief Michele Bachelet said an independent, U.N.-led investigation of Khashoggi’s suspected assassination by a Saudi hit squad is needed if Turkey and Saudi Arabia fail to reveal facts. “His family and the world deserve to know the truth,” Bachelet told the U.N.’s Spanish news service.
Khashoggi, who counted Princess Diana’s boyfriend Dodi Fayed and Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi among his relations, was born into a privileged family in 1958. He studied in the United States, where he graduated from Indiana State University, and worked for several Saudi-based Arabic and English-language newspapers.
With close royal family ties, he was an adviser to an ex-Saudi intelligence chief. He became a respected voice of moderation in the Arab world and strong critic of Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for silencing opposition and getting the kingdom mired in Yemen’s conflict.
U.N. human rights experts said in August that the governments of Yemen, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia may have been responsible for war crimes including rape, torture, arbitrary detention and the use of child soldiers in Yemen’s conflict since it intensified in early 2015.
That conflict is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with thousands killed and more than 22 million people in desperate need in the Arab world’s poorest nation where they lack water and food.
Saudi authorities had made it clear that Khashoggi was no longer welcome in his home country after he criticized the kingdom’s celebration of Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016.
He went into self-imposed exile in 2017, moving to the U.S. capital and becoming a columnist for The Washington Post’s opinion section. He also got involved in pro-democracy projects against the crown prince’s supposed anticorruption crackdown, similar to China’s anti-graft tactics for solidifying power.
He had two sons and two daughters from a first marriage, and his reason for entering the consulate was to get a document that he needed to get remarried the next day. He went previously to the consulate and was told to return on October 2.
While he returned, his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a doctoral student at Istanbul, waited outside. He gave her two mobile phones and instructions to call an adviser to the Turkish president if he did not reappear. She waited more than 10 hours, returning the next morning when he had still not come out.
#Turkey should urgently ask UN Secretary-General @antonioguterres to establish a United Nations investigation into the possible extrajudicial execution of the prominent Saudi journalist #JamalKhashoggi, CPJ, @HRW, @amnestyusa, and @RSF_inter said Thursday. https://t.co/Vx953pBeSk pic.twitter.com/msC1bTznKl
— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) October 18, 2018
Crimes against journalists
In his final column, which was published more than two weeks after he was last seen entering the consulate, Khashoggi issued a prescient warning against governments in the Middle East that “have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.”
Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah said in a note at the top of the column that she received the essay from Khashoggi’s translator and assistant a day after he was reported missing.
His disappearance highlighted a string of arrests and detentions around the world targeting journalists who reported on corruption, women’s rights and other sensitive issues, including some who have been held in unknown locations without charges, according to CPJ.
“If the U.N. is truly mobilized to fight impunity for crimes against journalists, then at the very least they must be fully engaged in one of the most shocking and extreme cases in recent years by undertaking this investigation,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders.
The organizations said Guterres should appoint a senior criminal investigator with extensive experience in international investigations to head the team, and that its work should begin at once and end with a public report on the overall findings and recommendations for follow-up.
They said U.N. investigators should travel and interview witnesses or suspects without interference and recommend paths for “bringing to justice anyone against whom credible and admissible evidence of involvement is found” — with the evidence preserved for future prosecutions.
In 2008, Pakistan asked for a similar type of investigation from then U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Investigators in that case said Pakistani authorities attempted to whitewash the events.
“Jamal Khashoggi’s family and the rest of the world deserve the full truth about what happened to him,” said Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director in New York.
“Partial explanations and one-sided investigations by Saudi Arabia, which is suspected of involvement, aren’t good enough,” he said. “Only the U.N. has the credibility and independence required to expose the masterminds behind Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance and to hold them to account.”
Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International’s New York office, said Saudi Arabia has the most to gain if it had nothing to do with Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely killing.
“Without a credible U.N. inquiry,” she said, “there will always be a cloud of suspicion hanging over Saudi Arabia, no matter what its leadership says to explain away how Khashoggi vanished.”
The case is also the latest example of a “new and very worrying practice” of nations abducting individuals beyond their own borders, Bernard Duhaime, chair of the U.N. Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, said in a statement.
“While in most cases the victims reappear in detention after a short period, in other cases they remain disappeared — as in the recent shocking case of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” he said.