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US must 'unlock the secrecy' surrounding Khashoggi's killing: UN expert

Agnes Callamard calls on Washington to increase 'transparency' and investigate the murder
'I think there is more [to be done] than has been done so far,' Callamard says (Reuters/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

The United States can play an important role in "unlocking the secrecy" around the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, UN rapporteur Agnes Callamard has said.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday, Callamard called on Donald Trump's administration to share its findings into the murder with the international community.

"I think there is more [to be done] than has been done so far, including by the CIA," Callamard said.

In a detailed report released last month, Callamard accused Saudi Arabia of being responsible for the crime, calling it a "state act" in violation of international law.

The document also put forward several recommendations for the US, including determining the possible involvement of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder.  

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It also called for an FBI investigation into the killing and the declassification and release of relevant information in possession of US intelligence agencies.

"Most of my recommendations are about transparency and truth-telling," she said.

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Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and columnist for the Washington Post, was murdered by Saudi government agents at the country's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Acknowledging the limitations of her own investigation, Callamard said the US is uniquely positioned to pursue accountability for the murder because Khashoggi was a US resident who wrote for an American publication.

Khashoggi's murder caused international outrage, with US lawmakers condemning Riyadh and calling for sanctions against bin Salman.

Still, Trump has refused to denounce his Saudi allies, ignoring a deadline mandated by the Global Magnitsky Act, a US human rights law, to report to Congress on whether bin Salman was involved in Khashoggi's killing.

In fact, as recently as last week, Trump continued to publicly defend bin Salman, falsely claiming that no one had pointed the "finger directly" at the crown prince for the crime. 

Last year, the CIA concluded with "high confidence" that the crown prince, known as MBS, ordered the murder. Later, the US Senate also passed a unanimous resolution stating that bin Salman was responsible for the murder.

On Tuesday, Callamard said MBS is at least responsible for creating the conditions of repression that made Khashoggi's killing possible. 

'We really must insist that this was a state killing, and for it, the state must be held responsible and accountable'

- Agnes Callamard

There is no way bin Salman was not aware of the inadequate Saudi investigation that followed the murder, Callamard said.

A team of Saudi inspectors also entered and cleaned up the crime scene at the country's consulate in Istanbul before Turkish investigators were granted access to the building, she added.

"That botched investigation, followed by a very unsatisfying prosecution, are a violation of the right to life, almost at the same level of the commissioning the crime itself," said Callamard.

'International crime'

The rapporteur stressed that the focus of her probe was the Saudi state, not the crown prince.

"We really must insist that this was a state killing, and for it, the state must be held responsible and accountable," she said.

Callamard said Khashoggi's killers were state agents who used Saudi government means to execute their crime, including a plane with diplomatic clearance.

"As you know, the killing took place in a consulate; the consul himself used his power to ensure that there were no witnesses on the floor when the killing took place," she said.

"So all of the dimensions of the execution of the crime meet the definition of a state killing."

In that context, sanctions on Saudi citizens involved in the crime - including those imposed by the US and other Western nations - amount to an endorsement of Saudi Arabia's claim that the murder was carried out by rogue agents, she said.

Riyadh has rejected the findings of Callamard's report, stressing last month that the killing is a domestic Saudi matter.

The Saudi government has charged more than a dozen individuals with involvement in the murder and is seeking the death penalty for five of them.

But Callamard pointed to the shortcomings of the legal process in Saudi Arabia, saying that MBS aide Saud al-Qahtani, who is believed to be the mastermind of the crime, remains free.

Callamard also insisted on Tuesday that Khashoggi's murder was a global matter. The killing violated various international norms, including the Vienna Convention on consular relations and the UN charter on the extraterritorial use of force, she said.

"Everything about the killing of Mr Khashoggi makes it an international crime."

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