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Un special rapporteur’s recommendations and follow-up actions by designated actors

The bulk of the Special Rapporteur’s Report on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, published on June 19, 2019, concerns documenting the past, providing details surrounding the murder and its aftermath. In contrast, the Report’s recommendations section focuses not on the past, but instead on the present and the future. In her recommendations, the Special Rapporteur urges a variety of international actors, including countries, international organizations, corporations, and civil society, to mobilize to ensure justice and accountability for the murder of Khashoggi, and to set up mechanisms to deter such extrajudicial killings and grievous human rights violations in the future.

Many of the recommendations are aimed at convening and assisting criminal legal investigations. For example, the Special Rapporteur urges the UN Secretary General to open a criminal investigation into the murder or set up a tribunal to prosecute the culprits. Other recommendations by the Special Rapporteur urge designated actors to sanction and shun those responsible for the murder. For example, the Special Rapporteur urges corporations not to enter any business deals with entities implicated in the murder. Still other recommendations do not specifically mention the Khashoggi killing. For example, the Special Rapporteur urges Saudi Arabia to release all individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinion and investigate all allegations of torture. All of the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations share the same underlying goal: to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights.

As the Saudi Arabian government’s initial excuses in the wake of the murder collapsed and details of what happened became more clear, the international community seemed to recoil at the savage murder of Khashoggi, and to rally together to demand justice for the murderers, including those at the highest level of the Saudi Government. Special Rapporteur Callamard’s charge stemmed from that initial demand for justice on the part of the international community. 

Unfortunately, the attention of much of the international community on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was short-lived. Other concerns eclipsed the initial outrage, and many seemed to lose interest in the work of the Special Rapporteur.  Indeed, the international community has for the most part failed to implement the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, and most of the designated actors have ignored her specific recommendations. The UN Secretary General has not opened a criminal investigation into the murder or set up a tribunal to prosecute the culprits. Most corporations, after initial hesitancy in the wake of the murder, have gone back to business as usual with Saudi entities and individuals directly implicated in the murder. For their part, the Saudis didn’t release individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinion or investigate allegations of torture, and they have continued to harass Saudi activists living abroad.

On December 3, 2019, more than a year after Khashoggi’s murder and roughly six months after the release of her recommendations, Special Rapporteur Callamard lamented the lack of progress in obtaining justice for Khashoggi.  She stated: “I want to denounce the seemingly unwillingness and passivity of the international community to hold Saudi Arabia to account for the killing. It was a state execution, not a rogue operation.” For now, it appears that those responsible for the state execution, including Saudi Crown Prince MBS, have weathered the storm, and that the Special Rapporteur’s Report will not necessarily lead to profound changes that will deter such atrocities from being committed in the future. 

Nevertheless, there have been a few bright spots, actors who have seized the initiative in trying to hold MBS and the Saudi government accountable for the murder of Khashoggi.  These bright spots include: Turkey, which is currently holding a trial of the accused killers; the US Congress, which, on a bipartisan basis, has attempted to reveal the responsibility of Crown Prince MBS for the murder; and several businesses that ended deals with Saudi Arabia after backlashes from community members concerned with Saudi human rights abuses. Perhaps, most important, civil society groups have banded together in an attempt to keep the murder of Khashoggi in the spotlight and to exact some price from those responsible for the killing, most recently by calling for a boycott of the G20 meeting scheduled for November 2020 in Riyadh. Whether these efforts lead to a measure of accountability for the killers or deter future extrajudicial torture and killings remains to be seen. 

The following is a list of the Special Rapporteur’s key recommendations, along with descriptions of responsive actions taken by designated parties. 

1. UN Secretary General (UNSG): The Special Rapporteur’s Report called upon the UNSG to initiate a criminal investigation of the murder of Khashoggi and to identity the proper UN body to hold a tribunal to prosecute the culprits.

While calling for “an independent and impartial investigation” of the Khashoggi murder, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has not launched a criminal investigation into Khashoggi’s murder or identified the proper UN body to prosecute the culprits. On January 18, 2019, during a press conference, the Secretary General stated that he didn’t have the right to carry out such an investigation unless he received legal authority from the Security Council or the General Assembly and a formal request from a member state.  Secretary General Guterres stated: “I do not have the right to launch a criminal investigation myself and no formal criminal investigation was requested to me by any member state.” Special Rapporteur Callamard, along with several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, challenged Secretary General Guterres’ narrow interpretation of his authority and his reluctance to launch a criminal investigation into the murder.  In fact, Article 99 of the UN Charter states that “Secretary-Generals may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” Previous Secretary Generals have used their authority to conduct investigations into Israel’s shelling of a U.N. peacekeeping compound in Lebanon, Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Sri Lanka.  In addition, previous UN Secretary Generals have on their own authority convened Commissions of Inquiry into events in Togo, Georgia, and Guinea.

Meanwhile, neither Turkey nor any other state has responded to Guterres’ protestations of powerlessness by formally requesting an investigation into the Khashoggi murder, despite repeated requests from civil society organizations that they do so.

2. The United Nations Security Council: The Special Rapporteur’s Report urged the UN Security Council to conduct its own inquiry into the murder of Khashoggi

The members of the UN Security Council have not convened any meetings, informal or otherwise, to discuss the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. A Canadian official stated that “most, if not all” of the Security Council members have a “vested interest” in blocking a probe into the Khashoggi murder.

3. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: The Special Rapporteur’s Report called on Saudi Arabia to apologize and provide financial reparations to Khashoggi’s family for his murder; accept state responsibility for the killing; release all individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinions; investigate all allegations of torture and killings; undertake an assessment of what happened to Khashoggi and issue a public report on its findings; and undertake a retrial of the suspects with international oversight. 

As the party responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, Saudi Arabia, not surprisingly, incurred the lion’s share of recommendations from the Special Rapporteur.  Saudi Arabia did comply with certain recommendations in connection with the Khashoggi family.  According to the state-run Saudi press agency, King Salman and Crown MBS both phoned Khashoggi’s son Salah on October 20, 2018 to express some sort of apology, giving their condolences for the killing of Salah’s father.  In addition, the Saudi government has given the Khashoggi children tens of thousands of dollars and millions in real estate as compensation for their father’s killing. Current and former Saudi Officials describe the payments as aiming to ensure the Khashoggi family shows restraint in public statements about their father’s murder.

On October 1,2019, Crown Prince MBS denied ordering or having prior knowledge of the killing, but did accept some measure of responsibility, stating: “It happened under my watch.  I get all the responsibility because it happened under my watch.”  Khashoggi’s former fiancé had a cynical take on MBS’s admission, stating, “He’s saying that it happened under his watch, but he means he is not involved in this crime. His statement is a pure political maneuver.” Regardless, MBS’ statement regarding responsibility might well have legal implications with respect to liability as determined by a court outside of Saudi Arabia.

Except for a quasi-apology, MBS’ political acceptance of responsibility, and payments to the Khashoggi family, Saudi Arabia hasn’t fulfilled any of the other recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur. Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince made it clear right away that neither international condemnation of the murder nor the Special Rapporteur’s Report would ameliorate the systematic abuse of human rights endured by Saudi citizens either at home or abroad.  As stated by Amnesty International’s Country Report for Saudi Arabia for 2019: “The authorities escalated repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They harassed, arbitrarily detained and prosecuted dozens of government critics, human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, members of the Shi’a minority and family members of activists.” 

Nor has MBS given up on extrajudicial killings of Saudi exiles perceived as political opponents.  Thirteen days after the murder of Khashoggi, MBS and the Saudi government, according to a complaint filed with the District Court in Washington, DC on August 6, 2020, sent a hit team to kill former Saudi intelligence officer Saad al-Jabri, a former top Saudi intelligence officer, who has been living in Toronto.  In June 2020, Canadian police warned Saudi exile and political activist Omar Abdulaziz that they had credible information that he was a “potential target” of the Saudis and that he should take precautions to protect himself. 

Under MBS, the Saudi regime also has escalated the practice of holding hostage the families of Saudi exiles without charges.  In the case of Abdulaziz, in August 2018, the Saudis arrested two of his brothers and seven of his friends. In the case of Al-Jabri, in March 2020, the Saudi government detained two of his adult children and one brother without charges and has held them incommunicado ever since. For more information on Saudi actions in the Al-Jabri case, please click here

In addition, Saudi Arabia has never filed a public report on what transpired in the Khashoggi killing, and the only trial they did conduct had no international oversight, and was, by all accounts, a staged sham that didn’t touch the chief architects of the murder, MBS and Saud Al-Qahtani. As the Special Rapporteur Callamard tweeted after the Saudi verdict: “the masterminds not only walk free, they have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery.”

4. Turkey: The Special Rapporteur’s Report called on Turkey to conduct its own public inquest into the murder and release relevant evidence; lodge an official request with the UN Secretary General to open a criminal investigation into the Khashoggi killing; and get its own house in order with respect to human rights abuses by ending the practices of imprisoning people for the free expression of their ideas, torture and forced disappearances.

With regards to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, Turkey has largely complied with the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations. It has shared audio recordings of Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi Consulate with the Special Rapporteur and a host of Western nations.  It has also conducted its own public inquest into the murder. On March 24, 2020, Turkish officials announced the indictments of 20 Saudi defendants for the murder of Khashoggi.  On July 2, 2020, Turkey commenced a trial in absentia of the 20 defendants. For more detail and updates on the Turkish trial, click here.  

However, Turkey has taken no steps to get its own house in order with respect to human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2020 stated that: “Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis over the past four years with a dramatic erosion of its rule of law and democracy framework.” According to Amnesty International, the Turkish government in 2019 detained thousands of people, in particular journalists, activists and human rights defenders, on trumped-up criminal charges or no charges at all, and placed severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In addition, Turkish authorities continue to disproportionately target Kurdish politicians and journalists working for Kurdish media.

5. The United States: The Special Rapporteur called on the United States to provide a determination under Section 1263(d) of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016 as to the role and responsibility of Crown Prince MBS in the murder of Khashoggi; hold hearings in the US Congress to determine the responsibility of high-level Saudi officials; and, consistent with the requirements of national security, declassify and release to the public all materials relating to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.  

In the United States, different branches and bodies of government, including agencies within the Executive seemed to hold very different views on the Khashoggi murder, which has led to a mixed, sometimes incoherent response by the country. The one constant has been President Trump’s unwavering support for Crown Prince MBS.  In the wake of the murder, President Trump resisted pinning the blame on MBS, and he seemed at pains to assure the Crown Prince that he would not pay a price for the murder. Despite President Trump’s clear intent, in mid-November 2018, the CIA leaked its conclusion that MBS had ordered the assassination of Khashoggi. In the weeks and months following the CIA assessment, Congress weighed into the controversy, holding hearings on the murder, passing resolutions condemning it, and passing legislation to try and force the Administration to declassify its findings regarding the Crown Prince’s responsibility for the murder.

Thus far, the Trump Administration has been successful in fending off Congress and protecting the Crown Prince from any serious repercussions for the murder within the United States. But that might change. In response to several lawsuits, US Courts, independent of the executive, have been called upon to order the release of documents, allegedly tying the Crown Prince to Khashoggi’s murder and other human rights abuses, including an alleged plot to kill a Saudi dissident in Canada. Time will tell whether US Courts defer to the Administration’s position on the matter or carve out their own path toward MBS, and, if the latter, whether they are able to enforce their decisions.

For more detail and information on the United States response to the Khashoggi’s murder, click here

6. Member States of the United Nations: The Special Rapporteur called on member states to issue statements seeking accountability for the murder; impose targeted sanctions against the perpetrators of the murder; and take steps to establish jurisdiction under international law over alleged perpetrators who might enter their territory.

In the weeks following the murder of Khashoggi, many Western states condemned the Khashoggi killing and called for an independent investigation to hold the perpetrators accountable. In addition, many imposed travel bans on the 18 Saudis suspected of involvement in the murder.  Germany, France and the United Kingdom coordinated on the issuance of a travel ban that applied across all 26 countries in the European Schengen area. Many countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, also imposed economic sanctions, freezing the assets of the suspected perpetrators. 

Argentina took the first steps toward establishing jurisdiction over Crown Prince MBS when he traveled to Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit at the end of November 2018. MBS was only there for a couple of days, and the Argentine wheels of justice didn’t move fast enough to hold him to account. In cases of crimes committed overseas by non-citizens, courts have in established jurisdiction over alleged perpetrators based on their physical presence in a country. For the time being, it seems unlikely that any of the suspected perpetrators, including the Crown Prince, will visit countries, including the United States, where they might be vulnerable to a lawsuit under domestic or international law, civil or criminal. But, for certain international crimes, including war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity, some courts have established jurisdiction without the physical presence of the alleged offender. In the case of Khashoggi’s murder, US courts might follow the precedent of these courts and establish personal jurisdiction over MBS and other Saudi culprits on the basis of universal jurisdiction, or based on other ties they have to the United States, or to persons or entities in the United States.

For more detailed information on the responses of UN Member States to Khashoggi’s murder, please click here

7. Corporations: The Special Rapporteur called upon corporations to avoid doing business with organs of the State that had a role in Khashoggi’s murder and to use their leverage with Saudi business partners to improve the human rights situation of Saudi citizens.

In the wake of Khashoggi’s killing, many North America and European corporations shunned Crown Prince MBS and Saudi Arabia.  A slew of businesses pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s October 23-25, 2018 Future Investment Initiative Conference. Some corporations suspended or cancelled deals with Saudi Arabia altogether.

Over the course of the next months, though, MBS and the Saudi government were for the most part rehabilitated in the business world. Many corporate leaders who had pulled out of the October 2018 “Davos in the desert” Conference quietly returned the next year. Indeed, by the time of the 2019 summit, billions of dollars’ worth of new deals had already been struck between the Kingdom and corporate leaders.  

Still, some companies have kept their distance from MBS and Saudi Arabia based on concerns over human rights abuses in the Kingdom. In late July 2020, two deals fell apart for the Crown Prince over human rights concerns. League of Legends developer Riot Games cancelled a sponsorship agreement with NEOM, MBS’s smart city of the future, and a groundswell of opposition from civil society and human rights groups managed to beat back MBS’ bid to buy the Newcastle United soccer team.

The failures of the Saudis to close the Riot Games and Newcastle United deals reveal the continued resilience and efficacy of the resistance to returning to business as usual after Khashoggi’s murder.  Civil society’s success in scuttling the two deals might also provide potential models for the future of similar efforts. “Whether current and potential business partners consider human rights in making business decisions regarding Saudi Arabia depends on the ability of civil society to highlight MBS and the Saudi Government’s human rights abuses, and to mobilize executives, shareholders, and employees of relevant companies. For more detailed information on the business response to the Khashoggi murder and Saudi human rights abuses, please click here

8. Civil Society: The Special Rapporteur called upon civil society, human rights groups and community organizations to advocate, mobilize and help promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Civil society mobilized immediately following the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and have continued to play the leading role in demanding accountability and reform from Saudi leaders. They demanded answers from the Saudis concerning Khashoggi’s whereabouts. They issued press releases, joint statements and reports in pursuit of accountability for the murderers. They held panel discussions and commemorations for Khashoggi. They filed lawsuits seeking information and documents pertaining to the murder, and they advocated and urged governments and corporations to sanction the perpetrators. The efforts of civil society in seeking justice for Jamal have been focused, steady, and relentless.

At the same time, some of the leading human rights groups in the world have worked to promote democracy and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia and the region and to expose continuing human rights abuses committed by the Saudi regime. 

For more detailed information on the civil society response to the Khashoggi murder, please click here.

9. Symbolic Responses: The Special Rapporteur’ Report recommended that all actors including governments, corporations, civil society organizations, create symbolic tributes, such as awards, scholarships, memorials, and events in Khashoggi’s honor; and that Istanbul should erect a memorial to Mr. Khashoggi’s stand for freedom of the press in front of the Saudi Consulate, and that Washington DC should rename a street in Khashoggi’s honor.

Various actors have created important symbolic tributes in Khashoggi’s honor.  On October 2, 2019, the first-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s death, Turkey unveiled a stone memorial with Khashoggi’s name and birth and death dates. It resembles a solemn gravestone, and it stands in the shadow of the Saudi Consulate where he was killed. The unveiling ceremony began just after 1:14 pm, the time that Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Consulate exactly one year before.  UN Special Rapporteur Callamard, Khashoggi’s former fiancé Hatice Cengiz, Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos and publisher Fred Ryan attended the ceremony.

On October 10, 2019, another memorial unveiling ceremony occurred in Bayeux, France. Khashoggi’s name was engraved on the War Reporters Memorial, honoring journalists killed in the line of duty. Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire stated at the ceremony: “Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was an attack on all journalists, on journalism in general and on the right of human beings to freedom of opinion and expression.”

Streets have also been renamed to honor Khashoggi. On November 28, 2018, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington, DC voted unanimously to rename the stretch of New Hampshire Avenue that runs in front of the  Saudi Embassy as “Jamal Khashoggi Way.” A street sign appeared briefly directly across from the Saudi Embassy.  In recognition of the DC Code section that requires that no public space be named for a living individual or individual who has been dead for less than two years, the DC Council declined to vote on the measure to rename the street.  That two-year anniversary passed on October 2, 2020.  Hopefully, the DC Council will soon take action to officially rename the street in Khashoggi’s name. 

Other streets have been renamed to honor Khashoggi. In London, on November 2, 2018 at 1:14 pm, one month to the minute since Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, human rights activists placed a “Khashoggi street” sign just across from the Saudi Embassy.  On October 2, 2019, to mark the one-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, human rights activists renamed streets in honor of Jamal Khashoggi across from the Saudi Embassies in Brussels, Belgium and the Hague, in the Netherlands.  A caption underneath the sign in the Hague reads: “Journalist murdered by Saudi Arabia.” Time will tell whether the renamed Khashoggi streets are temporary or permanent tributes.

Two Jamal Khashoggi Awards for Courageous Journalism have been established, providing money grants to journalists who distinguish themselves through their bravery and reporting. Grantees have included journalists from Pakistan, Zambia, Nigeria, United Kingdom, and United States.

On February 25, 2019, the Washington Post announced the establishment of the Khashoggi Fellowship and the first Khashoggi Fellow — Saudi award-winning activist Hala Al-Dosari. The Fellowship, according to the Washington Post, will “provide a new global opinions program for journalists and writers to offer their perspectives from parts of the world where freedom of expression is threatened or suppressed.” Al-Dosari’s first Washington Post Global Opinions column, entitled “A sham trial exposes Saudi Arabia’s continued disrespect for its citizens,” was published on March 13, 2019.    

Numerous memorial events have been held to honor Jamal Khashoggi. On January 10, 2019, one-hundred days after Khashoggi’s murder, Pen America held a memorial event on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to honor Khashoggi’s legacy and magnify demands for accountability for his murder. Speaking at the event, writer and President of Pen America Jennifer Egan stated: “By honoring and remembering him, we remind the Saudi government—and our own—that murdering journalists is not just barbaric and grotesque, but incapable of stifling their voices.” Other featured speakers and guests included Congresspersons Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, and Senators Chris Van Hollen, Amy Klobouchar, and Mark Warner.

The first large memorial service for Khashoggi was held in London, on October 29, 2018, four weeks after the murder. Speakers featured friends, colleagues, and supporters of Khashoggi, including Hatice Cengiz, his former fiancé, Crispin Blunt, Member of Parliament in the UK, Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists in the UK and Ireland, Esam Omeish, Chief of General Surgery at Inova Alexandria Hospital and DAWN Board member, Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN Executive Director and DAWN Senior Researcher Abdullah Alaoudh.

One of the last speakers, Nihad Awad, an old friend of Jamal, co-founder and CEO of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and currently Director of the DAWN Board, said:  “We will not rest until your vision for democracy and free press in the Arab World and in Saudi Arabia will be realized and until justice is done. You and I talked about our project with many of our friends here. You talked about DAWN for the Arab world.  Democracy for the Arab World Now. We were planning to launch it November this month, but I assure you, we will launch it.  And while your voice has been suppressed, ladies and gentlemen, you and I should be his voice.”

"He [MBS] appears to be moving the country from old-time religious extremism to his own “You-must-accept-my-reform” extremism, without any consultation – accompanied by arrests and the disappearance of his critics."

- JAMAL KHASHOGGI, the guardian, March 6, 2018