Khashoggi murder trials must public and meet international standards, UN expert urges

UN Photo/Mark Garten Press Briefing by Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


A United Nations human rights expert said on Thursday that Saudi Arabia’s closed-door trials of those it accuses of assassinating the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, have fallen short of international standards, calling instead for public trials of the alleged killers.

Agnes Callamard, who is leading an independent human rights inquiry into the killing at the Saudi consulate last October, denounced the lack of transparency of Saudi Arabia’s investigation and legal proceedings so far.

Calling the murder “an extrajudicial killing committed in a consulate office on foreign territory,” the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions spelled out that “these are not internal, domestic matters”.

The Saudi Government is “grievously mistaken”, she stated, if it believes that the current proceedings will satisfy the international community “either in terms of procedural fairness under international standards or in terms of the validity of their conclusions”.

Initially, Saudi Arabia detained 21 people during its investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, 11 of whom are currently being tried, with five facing the death penalty if convicted.

“The investigation and subsequent prosecution should comply with international legal standards, and that demands the highest levels of transparency and impartiality”, she maintained, adding that while the rights of the victim and his family are at stake, “so too are the rights of other States under international treaties and law”.

Noting that the Saudi Government has invited representatives of Permanent Members of the Security Council to attend some of the hearings, Ms. Callamard expressed her misgivings that “they risk being participants in a potential miscarriage of justice” and “possibly complicit” should the trials be marred by violations of human rights law.

“They should review their cooperation and insist that the proceedings be made fully open to the public and expert international observers”, stressed the Special Rapporteur.

She explained that a credible investigation before a court of law, requires adjudication of the disappearance and murder, based on international human rights law, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and customary law on the sanctity of sovereign territory.

“Thus far”, Ms. Callamard observed, “the Saudi authorities have not even disclosed publicly the identities of the accused; their roles in relation to the government or the details of the charges they face, and have held the court proceedings behind closed doors”.

The Special Rapporteur said that the Government would “demonstrate its good faith if it opens its efforts to international review.”

She concluded by renewing her request for permission to visit that country as part of her “inquiry into the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Khashoggi, to which I would welcome a positive response.”

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