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UN investigator regrets failure to probe 'chain of command' in Khashoggi murder

Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 October, 2019

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UN expert Agnes Callamard has urged the UN to investigate the "chain of command" behind the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A UN independent investigator said on Friday that she regrets that neither Saudi Arabia nor the UN secretary-general and UN decision-making bodies have taken steps to criminally investigate "the chain of command" behind the Saudi operation that led to last year's execution of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Speaking at a news conference a day after delivering a report to the General Assembly's human rights committee, Agnes Callamard said her findings presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June showed the Saudi journalist was the victim of "a planned, organized, well-resourced and premeditated extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia must bear responsibility."

But she said "it's really the chain of command that we need to unpack" — who ordered, incited or turned a blind eye to the October 2, 2018, killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi's body at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, while his fiance waited outside.

Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said she was hoping that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could take her work and say, "Right, let's at least see what can be done, how far more we can push our understanding of chain of command."

The UN wouldn't necessarily have reached "a strong conclusion, but they would have pushed the boundaries of what we as an international community are prepared to do," she said.

"That I deeply regret — that the secretary-general and other institutions within the UN did not take this opportunity to push further our understanding of chain of command, and our commitment to tackle chain of command."

Khashoggi was a longtime royal court insider and editor at state-linked newspapers in Saudi Arabia who described himself as worried by the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He had criticized the prince in his last job as a Washington Post columnist.

Callamard's report said the crown prince's role in the killing should be examined. She said Friday that such an investigation is not part of her mandate.

Read more: Exclusive interview with Agnes Callamard on #JusticeForJamal

Saudi Arabia initially offered multiple shifting accounts about Khashoggi's disappearance. As international pressure mounted, the kingdom eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed by rogue officials in a brawl inside the consulate. His body has never been found.

The Saudis sharply criticized Callamard's 101-page report, saying she failed to follow proper procedures and used flawed sourcing.


Bin Salman told CBS's "60 Minutes" in an interview last month that he takes "full responsibility" for Khashoggi's grisly killing, but denied ordering it. He called the slaying "a mistake."

Saudi Arabia's trial of 11 suspects has been held in secret and does not include the crown prince's top adviser at the time of the killing, Saud al-Qahtani, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. for his suspected role in orchestrating the operation.

"I have no doubt that a murder was part of the plan," Callamard said Friday. "I also know for a fact that there were many officials in Riyadh that were involved into the organization of this special operation."

She said it needs to be determined how far up the plot went in the Saudi state.

"What I do know is that for a killing of that nature to have taken place in a country such as Saudi Arabia, which is extremely centralized in its decision-making, a number of very high-level officials have to be involved," she said.

"I do not know whether the crown prince ordered the crime. What I do know is that there is enough evidence pointing to his responsibility at some level."

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