The World of International Organizations Explained

U.N.: Saudis undermine Khashoggi inquiry

Protest outside London's Natural History Museum where the Saudis held a celebration (ARÊTE/John Lubbock)

GENEVA — The U.N. team investigating Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death said preliminary evidence showed it was a “premeditated killing” that was planned and carried out by Saudi officials, who then “undermined” Turkey’s efforts to determine what happened.

United Nations special investigator Agnès Callamard and team members Helena Kennedy, a lawyer and baroness, Duarte Nuno Vieira, a professor of forensic medicine, and Paul Johnston, a homicide and major crimes investigator, spent a week investigating the case in Turkey.

“Evidence collected during my mission to Turkey shows (a) prime 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,” Callamard said in a statement.

“The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the sheer brutality of it has brought irreversible tragedy to his loved ones,” she said. “It is also raising a number of international implications which demand the urgent attention of the international community including the United Nations.”

Callamard opened an investigation into Khashoggi’s killing three months after demands began mounting among international organizations for a U.N.-led independent investigation into Khashoggi’s murder. Her team is supported by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2, and there has been no evidence that his remains were found.

Officials from the United States and Turkey have strongly condemned the killing as an outrageous plot to silence a well-known journalist and dissident. Khashoggi’s murder also has touched off a global furor over the Saudi regime and threats to press freedoms.

The four-member U.N. team went to Ankara and Istanbul to meet with the foreign and justice ministers, intelligence chief, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor and others. Their report to the U.N. Human Rights Council is due in June.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview, Kennedy said the killing appeared to have been orchestrated at the highest political levels.

“Three teams came in on a private airplane: nine agents of the state— high level operatives who worked within Saudi intelligence. They were led by seriously high level officials organizing this. The Consul General is involved in the operation itself,” she recounted.

“There was a cleanup team — four levels of cleaning of the consulate took place after this killing,” said Kennedy. “So we’re not talking about something that was a mishap. We’re talking about something that has all the appearances of being a highly orchestrated and well-planned assassination of someone who is an opponent and a critic of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Efforts to thwart investigation

After examining how Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials handled the matter, Callamard said the team concluded that Saudi Arabia “seriously curtailed and undermined” Turkey’s efforts to investigate Khashoggi’s death.

“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,” she said.

His brazen killing violated both international law and core rules of international relations, including the requirements for lawful use of diplomatic missions that are granted immunity to engage in their political work, according to the Callamard’s team.

“Guarantees of immunity were never intended to facilitate the commission of a crime and exonerate its authors of their criminal responsibility or to conceal a violation of the right to life,” she said. “The circumstances of the killing and the response by state representatives in its aftermath may be described as ‘immunity for impunity.’ ”

The team listened to what it called a chilling and gruesome audiotape of the murder that Turkish intelligence obtained, but said it lacked the time for some “crucial inquiries” such as independently authenticating the audiotape through technical examination.

“We could not meet with the investigators that have been working on the case, such as the chief police investigator and relevant forensic and crime scene specialists,” said Callamard, who is seeking access to forensic, scientific and police reports.

Khashoggi’s killing is part of a menacing pattern against journalists, human rights activists and political opposition figures around the world.

“Fleeing abroad in search of safety has become less and less a reliable form of protection,” Callamard said. “The international community must take a strong and collective stand against these practices.”

Saudi judicial process

The crown prince in 2017 threatened to use “a bullet” to kill Khashoggi, according to a conversation he had with a top aide that was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, The New York Times reported. The conversation apparently was transcribed and analyzed.

Turkish officials have complained that Saudi Arabia has been less than cooperative, while Saudi Arabia indicted 11 people in Khashoggi’s killing, including some from the prince’s entourage, and has been seeking the death penalty against five of them.

The kingdom, which initially denied Khashoggi was killed in the consulate, has held two court hearings for those accused in the murder, The Associated Press reported, citing a telephone interview with Callamard who complained of a lack of transparency in the Saudi judicial process.

She said she learned of the hearing during her trip and called for public access to the kingdom’s closed-door trials. Turkey has sought to extradite the Saudi suspects.

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