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US must determine MBS's responsibility in Khashoggi murder, UN expert urges

UN report renews calls for Trump to hold his Saudi allies responsible for journalist's killing
Trump has defended Mohammed bin Salman despite outrage over assassination (MEE/AFP)
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Washington

Washington must determine what responsibility Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bears in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a new United Nations report has urged, renewing pressure on US President Donald Trump to hold his allies in Riyadh accountable.

In a scathing document that called the assassination a "deliberate, premeditated execution", UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard called on the Trump administration to comply with the Global Magnitsky Act, a US human rights law that the American president has ignored.

The law, which was triggered by US lawmakers last year, directed the White House to produce a report about bin Salman's possible involvement in the crime. But the administration missed the February deadline to submit its findings.

In her report, released on Wednesday, Callamard also said that the FBI should open its own investigation into the assassination if it has not already.

She also called for the US to release any relevant information it may possess about the murder.

"To the greatest extent possible consistent with national security, declassify and release to the public all materials relating to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, including all intercepts," Callamard wrote.

Saudi Arabia's minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, strongly rejected the report, saying it contained "nothing new".

Translation: We assert that the kingdom's judiciary is the only side that can look into this case as it performs its duties independently, and we strongly reject any attempt to compromise the leadership or derailing the case from the path of justice in the kingdom or influencing it.

Without being specific, Jubeir said the report contained contradictions and that the "judiciary in the kingdom is the only authority competent to deal with this issue", according to the state-run SPA news agency.

"We strongly reject any attempt to undermine the leadership of the kingdom or to turn the issue away from the course of justice in the kingdom, or influence it in any way," Jubeir said in a statement, SPA reported.

'Shameful'

Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist who criticised Saudi Arabian policies, was murdered at the country's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

The UN probe revealed that Saudi government agents had discussed murdering and dismembering Khashoggi before his arrival at the building, referring to the journalist as "the sacrificial animal".

The report, which calls for targeted sanctions against bin Salman's "personal assets abroad" unless proof is produced to clear him of involvement in the crime, adds to the body of evidence implicating the crown prince in the murder.

Last year, the CIA concluded that he was behind the crime - a finding backed by every single US senator in late 2018.

Still, Trump has refused to denounce the crown prince, instead issuing a forceful defence of Riyadh last November when he cited Saudi officials as saying that the slain journalist was an "enemy of the state" and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis have consistently denied any involvement in the murder by bin Salman.

With the release of the UN report on Wednesday, US lawmakers and rights advocates renewed their criticism of Trump's handling of the crisis.

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, slammed Trump for what he called "brazen stonewalling of accountability for the murder".

For his part, Democratic US Congressman Ted Lieu, an outspoken critic of the White House, urged the president to "stop being a lapdog" of Saudi Arabia.

"The UN investigation corroborates the public reporting about our CIA's investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi: that the Crown Prince ordered the code red," he wrote on Twitter.

Jennifer Wexton, another Democratic lawmaker, also denounced the Trump administration for refusing to act against bin Salman.

Advocacy groups decried the White House over the report as well.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based media watchdog, stressed that Washington must comply with the findings of Callamard's investigation.

'It is shameful that governments have chosen to prioritise money and arms sales over holding the Saudi government accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law'

- Amrit Singh, Open Society Foundations

"The US government and UN member states have a moral duty to implement its recommendations," said the group's deputy executive director, Robert Mahoney.

"Failure to do so sends the message that journalists can be murdered with impunity."

The Open Society Foundations, a pro-democracy advocacy group that is suing the Trump administration to release information related to Khashoggi's murder, said the UN report highlights the importance of its lawsuit.

"It is shameful that governments have chosen to prioritise money and arms sales over holding the Saudi government accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law," Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the organisation, said in a statement.

The UN report also comes as US lawmakers are pushing to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Trump vetoed a congressional resolution to end Washington's support for the Gulf kingdom's war in Yemen.

The White House and Saudi embassy in Washington did not return Middle East Eye's request for comment.