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Human rights organisations lead call for independent probe

By Jay Jackson, Maryland State News
19 Oct 2018, 20:41 GMT+10

NEW YORK, New York - The United States says it will wait a few more days before outlining its response to allegations concerning the disappearance of Washington Post correspondent Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been sighted he entered the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd.,

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Thursday that Saudi Arabia was doing its own investigation into the events that led to Khashoggi's disappearance.

"I told President Trump this morning we ought to give them a few more days to complete that, so that we too have a complete understanding of the facts," he said.

Pompeo had just returned from a flying visit to Riyadh and Ankara. In Riyadh he had a 15 minute meeting with King Salman, and this was followed by a 35 to 40 minutes meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he had dinner with afterwards. The secretary of state and the crown prince were filmed having a jovial meeting, with the crown prince at various stages convulsing in laughter.

Mr Pompeo said he had privately told the Saudi leader he must own the story, and that every fact must be revealed. He said he believed Saudi Arabia would conduct a transparent and thorough investigation.

Details of how Mr Khashoggi died have been leaked to Turkish media and relayed through Western media, however no proof has been put forward. An audio tape, and possibly a videotape appears to exist but Turkish authorities have thus far failed to produce any tape publicly. At issue is how it was obtained. Early reports said feeds were transmitted from Mr Khashoggi's Apple watch however experts are skeptical that would have been possible. The only other explanation would be the sophisticated nature of Turkey's intelligence methods which could have enabled them to conduct surveillance on the consulate to the extent where goings-on inside the diplomatic post could be listened to and potentially viewed. There is some skepticism about this theory as well.

President Trump meantime has asked Turkey to hand a copy of the tape over. Turkey has yet to respond.

On Thursday the pressure on the parties involved, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States was ratcheted up by a call from two global journalists associations, and two of the most prominent international human rights organizations, for a UN-led investigation, to avoid mounting concern that the three countries involved are planning a cover-up. The call was directed at Turkey as it has the judicial responsibility of addressing the allegations, as any crimes that were committed, if any, were carried out on Turkish soil.

"Turkey should urgently ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a United Nations investigation into the possible extrajudicial execution of the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders," said in a joint statement released on Thursday.

"The investigation should determine the circumstances surrounding Saudi Arabia’s role in the enforced disappearance and possible killing of Khashoggi. It should aim to identify everyone responsible for ordering, planning, and executing any operations connected with the case," the statement said.

The organizations involved in human rights and representing journalists interests across the world, believe only the United Nations can objectively and independently review the evidence.

“Turkey should enlist the UN to initiate a timely, credible, and transparent investigation” Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. said Thursday. “UN involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh.”

"Evidence collected by the UN investigation team should be preserved for use in future prosecutions. The investigation team should have complete access to travel where it needs to, and to interview potential witnesses or suspects without interference. The team should also recommend avenues for bringing to justice anyone against whom credible and admissible evidence of involvement is found."

Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 and has not been seen or heard from since. Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in his disappearance, claiming he left the consulate on his own shortly after his arrival, but it has failed to produce any evidence to support this. Closed-circuit television cameras captured Khashoggi's arrival at the consulate, and video of that has been released. However no such film of his departure has been made available. 

Saudi authorities have escalated their crackdown on dissenting voices in the country since Mohammad bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017, marked by systematic repression of dissent, including peaceful expression directed to the promotion and protection of human rights. Virtually all human rights defenders and critical voices, including religious clerics, journalists, and academics, have been targeted in the recent arrests, the joint statement published Thursday said.

Khashoggi’s disappearance comes after more than a year of arrests targeting journalists who reported on corruption, women’s rights, and other sensitive issues. Several are being held in unknown locations, without charges, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Many individuals, including the prominent women human rights defenders Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan, and Aziza al-Yousef, have been arbitrarily detained without charge for months. These women activists and many others may face lengthy prison terms or the death penalty following grossly unfair trials before the counterterrorism court for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, or assembly, the statement said.

The Turkish authorities announced that they had initiated a criminal investigation on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance on October 2. As part of this investigation, they conducted a forensic examination of the Saudi Arabian consulate on October 15. Information from the investigation has been shared with the media through a series of leaks, including claims regarding the existence of audio and visual records proving that Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate.

On October 15, Saudi Arabia’s king ordered the Public Prosecution to open an investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. Given the possible involvement of Saudi authorities in Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance and possible murder, and the lack of independence of Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, the impartiality of any investigation by the Saudi authorities would be in question, the statement said. 

Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national, told media outlets that when Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate on October 2 to obtain their marriage documents, he left her his phones and instructions to alert the Turkish authorities if he did not return after two hours. That was the last time Cengiz saw him. Turkish authorities believe Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the consulate.

"This demonstrates all the more clearly how imperative an impartial and independent investigation is in order to establish the truth and ensure justice for Jamal Khashoggi,” Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders said Thursday. “If the UN is truly mobilized to fight impunity for crimes against journalists, then at the very least they must be fully engaged in one of the most shocking and extreme cases in recent years by undertaking this investigation."

There is a precedent for such a UN investigation. In 2008, Pakistan asked then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish an investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. That investigation uncovered what investigators said was an attempt by Pakistani authorities to whitewash the events surrounding Bhutto's murder.

An investigation into Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance and possible murder should start promptly and be thorough, impartial, and independent. UN Secretary-General Guterres should appoint a senior criminal investigator with extensive experience in international investigations to head the team. Once the investigation is concluded, the secretary-general should issue a public report on the overall findings along with his recommendations for following up, the joint statement said.

“Jamal Khashoggi’s family and the rest of the world deserve the full truth about what happened to him,” Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch said Thursday. “Partial explanations and one-sided investigations by Saudi Arabia, which is suspected of involvement, aren’t good enough. Only the UN has the credibility and independence required to expose the masterminds behind Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance and to hold them to account.”

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and all other UN member countries should fully cooperate with the UN investigation to ensure that it has all the access and support necessary to determine what happened to Khashoggi. To facilitate the investigation, Saudi Arabia should immediately waive diplomatic protections such as the inviolability or immunity of all relevant premises and officials bestowed by treaties such as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for waving these diplomatic protections in the case, the statement said.

Turkey should turn over all evidence, including audio and visual records that Turkish officials have repeatedly claimed to the media reveal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate. A newly formed Turkish-Saudi working group investigating the murder will be unable to make progress in the face of Saudi Arabia’s blanket denials and rejection of any involvement in Khashoggi’s enforced disappearance, the joint statement from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders said.

“If the government of Saudi Arabia is not involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s fate, it has the most to gain in seeing an impartial UN investigation determine what happened,” Sherine Tadros, head of the New York office of Amnesty International said Thursday. “Without a credible UN inquiry, there will always be a cloud of suspicion hanging over Saudi Arabia, no matter what its leadership says to explain away how Khashoggi vanished.”

The crisis has caused a major furore across the world and has resulted in major withdrawals of prominent business people and corporations, governments and business associations, including the IMF from an investment conference to be held next week. U.S Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is the latest to announce he will not be attending.

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