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Interview

"The international community can no longer turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s crimes"

Agnès Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, and the author of a report on the Khoshoggi affair, says the death of the Saudi journalist was the “culmination of a chain of events” that included the “abduction, detention and humiliation” of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Agnès Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings. Photo AFP

Last week, after six long months of research and investigation, Agnès Callamard published a report on the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The 100-page document provides unprecedented details about the sordid operation’s sequence of events and highlights the international community’s inaction and silence in its wake, despite significant media outcry about the execution of the famous Saudi journalist in his country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd 2018. In an interview with L’Orient-Le Jour, Callamard calls on the international community to react.


To what extent did Mohammed Ben Salmane, the Saudi crown prince, play a role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?

My report does not directly implicate the crown prince. It puts forth evidence that demands that he be subject to a more thorough investigation in order to conclude one way or another whether he is guilty. This evidence is based on international law regarding individual criminal responsibility. The international community was very interested to know who had ordered the crime, which is very important. However, the prince or other people, may be considered responsible even if they did not order the crime. For example, the crown prince or another individual could be found responsible of directly or indirectly inciting the murder of M. Khashoggi by having prior knowledge of the operation but not taking the necessary steps to stop it from being carried out.


What can you tell us about the proof and evidence that you obtained as part of your report?

My analysis of the evidence was based on two things. The first was to determine whether it was a state crime, and secondly if the murder of M. Khashoggi could have been the result of an accident. With regards to the state, I established several facts regarding its responsibility. The 15 individuals (that perpetrated the crime) were indeed agents of the state. They arrived in Turkey through official channels: eight of them traveled in a private jet that had diplomatic immunity, two of them traveled with their diplomatic passports. The act was committed in the consulate, which is official territory/grounds of the state, they used resources of the state, such as the consulate’s cars, and their hotel had been paid for by Riyad.

I focused also on the accident narrative put forth by the Saudi authorities. I could not give credence to it. When you send a team of 15 of people [to a foreign country], one can suspect that we are dealing with a mission of a very particular nature, carried out by individuals that by all accounts had already worked together. In the 24 hours before the murder, a forensic expert was added to the team. He spoke an hour before the murder with another member of the team about how to dismember a body, which is what subsequently happened. It is very clear that the murder was planned. If it were an accident, we would expect the people present in the room to speak up or that there be elements of surprise in the recordings that I heard. But there was none of that. It was a rather calm process.


To what extent did the advisor to the crown prince at the time, Saoud al-Qahtani, order or at least encourage this operation?

The Saudi prosecutor found that M. Qahtani encouraged certain members of this special operation during a meeting before their departure from Riyad to bring back M. Khashoggi because he was a threat to national security. Based solely on what the prosecutor said, M. Qahtani was involved in the mission and was planning a kidnapping. I find it improbable to conclude that M. Qahtani was not aware that murder was an option and had been planned for in case the kidnapping failed. M. Qahtani could very well have charges brought against him based on international law for attempted forced disappearance, according to international conventions and which is a serious violation of human rights. It is therefore surprising that with this evidence the Saudi prosecutor did not charge M. Qahtani.


What obstacles and challenges did you face during your investigation?

The main limitation is that I could not access Saudi Arabia, that I could not speak with the Saudi prosecutor and that I could not get access to the pieces of evidence at their disposal in order to compare them to those I managed to obtain. A lot of the information had to with intelligence gathering. Intelligence agencies hesitate to speak to people like me. It is therefore fairly difficult to authenticate and determine whether information is correct. I did not manage to obtain a copy of the recordings of the crime and had to listen to them with my interpreter inside official premises. I know they are authentic because I obtained confirmation from other sources and was able to cross-check my analysis of them with others. I was also able to compare the recordings with other information that allowed me to cross-check the evidence.


In your opinion, does Saudi Arabia enjoy a unique immunity? How do you explain it?

The death of M. Khashoggi is the culmination of a chain of events to which the international community did not respond strongly enough. For example, the kidnapping of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is an extraordinary violation [of international norms] which drew little reaction, including within Lebanon. In Saudi Arabia, women were arrested for the crime of wanting to drive (before women were given the right to drive in June 2018). The international community’s inaction toward Saudi Arabia is due to many reasons: political, geostrategic, economic, financial, and national security. I do not dispute the fact that Saudi Arabia should be an important partner of these actors, but a partnership/alliance should be founded on respect for the principles of international law. The international community needs to stop turning a blind eye and not reacting strongly enough when Saudi Arabia commits a crime. This inaction only gives Saudi Arabia carte blanche to continue acting in the same way.


You mention the Saad Hariri affair. Did you find additional details on this matter?

I was interested in the context and circumstances in order to see if there were elements that showed that Saudi authorities were willing to do things of an extraordinary nature in the context of international law. The crime committed against M. Hariri is incredible. I could not find another case in which a Prime Minister of a foreign country was abducted, detained, and humiliated, and where the international community did not react to these violations. M. Hariri was finally protected by France, but I am talking here about an unequivocal denunciation. We could not perceive this abduction as an internal, domestic affair involving only Saudi Arabia, as had been claimed.


The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, declared through his spokesperson that he did not have “the means or necessary authority to launch a criminal investigation without the mandate of an intergovernmental organization”. How do you respond to that?

I believe that there exists the means and the mandate. I understand that it is an aspect of his job and mandate that is not necessary laid out in black and white, and that it is a matter of interpretation. The Secretary-General or legal experts interpret the law and jurisprudence cautiously. I propose in my report a far more “generous” interpretation of his prerogatives. I also recommend that Turkey, or other member states, request an international criminal investigation, which is also a possibility. I note that the spokesperson of the Secretary-General seemed to have said that there would in fact need to be a resolution passed by Security Council to launch an investigation. This is new because up until this point, the Security Council had only said that Turkey needs to officially request an investigation. Along the same lines, in the report, I propose the creation of a permanent investigative tool that could auto-mandate itself, in order to carry out criminal investigations that I could not carry out.


(This interview was originally in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 22nd of June)



Last week, after six long months of research and investigation, Agnès Callamard published a report on the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The 100-page document provides unprecedented details about the sordid operation’s sequence of events and highlights the international community’s inaction and silence in its wake, despite significant media outcry about the execution of the...