GENEVA — The U.N. human rights chief waded into the high-profile disappearance of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying his probable torture, murder and dismemberment would be “very serious crimes” that should compel Saudi Arabia and Turkey to cooperate fully.
Michelle Bachelet, who heads the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Saudi Arabia and Turkey to waive their diplomatic immunities and reveal everything they know about the likely extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi in his country’s consulate at Istanbul.
“Under international law, both a forced disappearance and an extrajudicial killing are very serious crimes, and immunity should not be used to impede investigations into what happened and who is responsible,” Bachelet said in a statement. “Two weeks is a very long time for the probable scene of a crime not to have been subjected to a full forensic investigation.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and outspoken critic of his government, had taken up residence in the United States, where he was a columnist for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section. He went to visit the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document that showed he was divorced so he could marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a doctoral student at a university in Istanbul.
He was told to return on October 2. When he did, he brought along Cengiz and asked her to wait outside the consulate. He clearly had some misgivings about reentering the consulate, because he gave her two mobile phones and instructed her to call an adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan if he did not return.
She waited for more than 10 hours and returned the next morning when he had still not reappeared. He never did emerge from the Saudi consulate, and he has not been seen since.
Not much has been independently confirmed, but the Turkish government said it has evidence that Saudi agents tortured, killed, and dismembered Khashoggi before fleeing the country with his remains. Saudi officials have called the allegations “baseless.”
On the day of his disappearance, a private plane arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport carrying some members of what Turkish media called a 15-member Saudi “assassination squad,” including a man described as a forensics and “autopsy expert.”
Surveillance footage later leaked to Turkish media showed Khashoggi walking into the main entrance of the Saudi consulate and, later, vehicles with diplomatic license plates leaving the Saudi consulate for the consul general’s home.
An obligation to investigate
It had been a little more than a year since The Post published its first column by Khashoggi, a veteran journalist former Saudi royal court insider, in which he described why he chose self-imposed exile in the United States while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose in power.
In that and subsequent columns, Khashoggi, a strong voice for press freedom, criticized the prince and the kingdom’s direction. Just before returning to Istanbul this month, he traveled to London to speak at a conference. He also was a highly visible television commentator on the crown prince’s reform agenda.
After Khashoggi’s fiancée and The Post went public with his disappearance, Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency said the consulate was carrying out “follow-up procedures and coordination with the Turkish local authorities to uncover the circumstances of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after he left the consulate building.” There was no evidence he ever left the building alive.
U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to inflict “severe punishment” if the Saudis played a confirmed role in killing Khashoggi, but that he does not want the case to put a dint in Saudi arms sales that create jobs for Americans.
Trump sent his top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to meet with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the crown prince and other top Saudi officials in Riyadh to discuss the case, amid unconfirmed reports the Saudis were preparing to acknowledge that Khashoggi was killed during an interrogation before a planned rendition back to Saudi Arabia.
In that case, the main questions would be whether the operation could have been conducted without clearance at the highest levels from King Salman and the crown prince, whose oil-rich kingdom has been a staunch ally of the United States and, particularly, the Trump family and administration.
Bachelet said she welcomed an agreement that has allowed investigators to conduct an examination inside the consulate and residence of the Saudi Arabian consul general in Istanbul. She urged Saudi and Turkish authorities “to ensure that no further obstacles are placed in the way of a prompt, thorough, effective, impartial and transparent investigation.”
Erdogan told reporters in Ankara that investigators found evidence in the consulate of “toxic materials and those materials being removed by painting them over.” Turkish news outlets reported Khashoggi was drugged and parts of the consulate and consul’s residence were repainted after his disappearance.
Due to the seriousness of the situation, Bachelet said “the inviolability or immunity of the relevant premises and officials bestowed by treaties such as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations should be waived immediately” since it has been two weeks since Khashoggi disappeared.
The Vienna treaty was adopted in 1963 but took effect in 1967, and has since been ratified by 180 nations. Bachelet also noted that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are both party to the 1987 U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Nations that belong to the anti-torture treaty, she said, are obliged to do everything they can to prevent torture, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations, and to investigate potential crimes and bring to justice those who are suspected of committing them.
“Given there seems to be clear evidence that Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate and has never been seen since,” Bachelet said, “the onus is on the Saudi authorities to reveal what happened to him from that point onwards.”