UN independent expert Agnès Callamard today welcomed a report published earlier this week by U.S. authorities that named Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as the person who gave the go ahead to the operation to kill or capture journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mr. Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi consular offices in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018.
While welcoming the finding, which corroborates previous work done by her as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Callamard said she was "disappointed" that there was no new factual evidence in the report, and that there were no plans for holding the Saudi royal accountable.
“The fact that the report named the quasi-head of a state, Mr. Mohammed bin Salman, as being responsible for the operation that killed Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, is an important demonstration as well on the part of United States to be transparent”, Ms Callamard said.
“On another level I was disappointed, and I am disappointed," she added. "First of all, factually speaking, the report provided nothing new. It is an analysis of circumstantial evidence and a judgment that is being brought forward, important but I would have expected more material evidence and presumably they exist, but they have not been declassified,” Ms. Callamard said.
The Special Rapporteur called on the U.S. government to commit to the promises of the election campaign and to put human rights, and particularly the freedom of the press, at the forefront of its agenda.
U.S. officials have announced visa restrictions affecting 76 Saudi citizens involved in harassing activists and journalists. They have so far declined to apply sanctions to the crown prince, however.
“So far, the government of the United States has not announced any actions to build on their findings and liability and responsibility on the part of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, " Ms. Callamard said. "It is extremely problematic in my view, if not dangerous to acknowledge someone’s culpability and then to tell that someone ‘but we don’t do anything, please proceed as if we had said nothing’. That to me is an extremely dangerous move on the part of the USA,” she added.
“What President Biden has announced during his campaign to protect the freedom of the press, to announce a new era in terms of human rights based policy, then to refuse to held to account, to sanction the man who is ultimately responsible for killing Jamal Khashoggi, that to me is extremely worrisome”, Agnes Callamard said. “I am calling on the US government to act on its public findings and to sanction Mohammed bin Salman for what he has done”.
Ms Callamard was supported by her colleague Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
“I am pleased that the report has been published, but very disappointed, very disappointed, that on the issue of accountability," Ms. Khan said. "The US has not seen it fit to take a stronger action at this stage. They have announced Khashoggi sanctions, and I hope they will be used”.
Speaking directly to the importance of the case for the media, Ms. Khan told reporters at a press conference in Geneva, Ms. Khan said that “only 12 percent, only 12 percent, of killings of journalists ever get investigated, prosecuted."
"That is an appalling number around the world and the U.S. should take the lead in pushing for accountability,” Ms. Khan argued.