Candles lit by activists protesting the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi are placed outside Saudi Arabia's Consulate in Istanbul. 

© 2018 Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo
The decision by the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, to investigate the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi shows courage and initiative. It is likely to anger Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s allies. And it contrasts with the reluctance of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to work with Turkey to set up a UN investigation following Khashoggi’s torture and murder by a team of Saudi officials in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.

Guterres told reporters earlier in January he couldn’t launch a “criminal investigation” without a mandate from the UN Security Council or General Assembly. But past secretaries-general have used their authority to launch inquiries on a range of issues, including individual accountability, with or without requests or mandates from UN member states, or various UN legislative bodies.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently announced that two additional investigators will participate in Callamard’s inquiry into Khashoggi’s killing – British barrister Helena Kennedy and Duarte Nuno Vieira, a pathologist and professor of forensic medicine at Portugal’s Coimbra University. The team started working in Turkey today and has requested to visit Saudi Arabia. Their findings will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other UN member states should offer their full cooperation. Callamard’s team needs unfettered access to evidence gathered by Turkish authorities, including audio intercepts and video footage, so it can independently analyze and verify them. They should be granted independent and unsupervised access to all witnesses as well.

As a member of the Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia has an obligation to cooperate with Council mechanisms, including the special rapporteur. Saudi Arabia’s ongoing trial of 11 people in connection with the murder – five of whom may face the death penalty – appears aimed at covering up the suspected involvement of the highest levels of Saudi leadership. Governments should make any relevant intelligence they have available to Callamard, including the US Central Intelligence Agency, which concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the killing of the Saudi journalist, according to the New York Times.

Once Callamard presents her findings to the Human Rights Council, UN member states should explore avenues for holding to account everyone responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, from the operatives who dismembered him with a bone saw to any officials who ordered or organized the killing.