“It was premeditated,” concluded Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, describing the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
She added that the Washington Post reporter’s assassination on October 2, 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was “overseen, planned, and endorsed by high-level officials.”
In her long-awaited report to the Human Rights Council, Callamard found credible evidence that Saudi Arabia bears state responsibility for the crime. She also said there was sufficient evidence to warrant a follow-up investigation into individual culpability of top Saudi officials, including the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who she said condoned or allowed an escalation of repressive acts against journalists, human rights defenders, and others.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should now build on the report and work with Turkey to establish a commission of inquiry to identify those responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and offer avenues to bring them to justice no matter how high up the chain the guilty parties sit. To remove any doubt about their position, Turkish authorities should formalize the request for an inquiry with an official letter to Guterres.
A UN secretary-general-mandated commission of inquiry can assist the ongoing Turkish investigation as well as monitor the Saudi criminal proceedings into Khashoggi’s murder, which are currently taking place behind closed doors and are widely suspected of being little more than a state-orchestrated cover-up meant to protect top-level officials.
So far, the UN secretary-general has shown little interest in helping secure justice for Khashoggi’s murder – and it’s not for a lack of precedents. Past UN secretaries-general have established similar inquiries, a notable example being Ban Ki-moon’s creation of a probe into the Benazir Bhutto assassination, which was triggered at the request of Pakistan.
Given Guterres’ lack of enthusiasm, the ball is now in Turkey’s court: unless it pens an official request to the UN secretary-general for a follow-up inquiry, those who ordered, condoned, or carried out Khashoggi’s assassination may well get away with murder.