ISTANBUL — A U.N. human rights expert leading an independent investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi said Tuesday that her team was waiting for permission to enter the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where he was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi government agents, according to Turkish and Saudi prosecutors.
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, visited the area around the consulate on Tuesday morning but did not enter the building. She told reporters her office had asked the Saudi government for access to the consulate and was giving them time to “process our request.”
“We just wanted to have a sense of it,” she said of the four-person team in Turkey this week, according to a recording of her comments posted by a journalist for the Al Jazeera English news channel.
Callamard’s trip to the scene of the crime underscored what she said was her determination to get to the bottom of what happened when Khashoggi walked into the consulate on Oct. 2, as well as the limitations placed on her ability to gather all the facts. Khashoggi was a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.
Callamard, a long-standing advocate of human rights and freedom of expression, was appointed a U.N. special rapporteur in 2016 with a grim mandate to investigate arbitrary executions. But she is not a prosecutor, has no authority to bring criminal charges and can only visit countries that expressly welcome her. So far, Saudi Arabia has not.
In an email, Callamard said her mission is to establish the circumstances of Khashoggi’s killing. She said she had initiated the inquiry on her own because the United Nations has given no sign it will conduct an international criminal investigation.
“I conceive of this inquiry to be a necessary step, among a number of others, towards crucial truth telling about a former accountability for the gruesome killing of Mr. Khashoggi,” she said in a statement.
Turkish officials have called publicly for an international investigation, and but have not made a formal request for one from U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, despite pleas from human rights groups.
“This is not a replacement for an official U.N. criminal investigation ordered by the secretary general,” said Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It is a very important first step. There couldn’t be a clearer case where a high level U.N. investigation is needed.”
Callamard said she also has requested permission to visit to Saudi Arabia and asked for meetings with U.S. officials, including those in the CIA, the State Department and Congress.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has called on the CIA to provide Callamard with transcripts of intercepted calls that are believed to have led the U.S. intelligence agency to conclude with medium to high confidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi murdered because he was a high-profile critic.
Saudi officials have denied Mohammed had any knowledge of the plot and said it was carried out by agents who were acting outside of their authority.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the United States has asked the Saudi ruling family, including the crown prince, to hold Khashoggi’s killers accountable, but said the relationship with Saudi Arabia is too important to be jeopardized by the killing.
Saudi Arabia is conducting its own investigation into the killing and has rejected a Turkish request to extradite Saudi suspects to stand trial in Turkey. Eleven people who Saudi prosecutors said are charged in the murder attended their first court hearing in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, earlier this month. Prosecutors have said they are seeking the death penalty for five people, but they have not named any of the suspects.
Saudi Arabia has also not said whether it has indicted or detained two senior Saudi officials who prosecutors linked to the killing, raising doubts about whether the authorities are serious about prosecuting all of those responsible. One of the officials, Saud al-Qahtani, has been seen in recent weeks in the offices of the Saudi royal court, according to two witnesses. Qahtani, one of the crown prince’s closest advisers, had briefed the team of Saudi agents before they traveled to Istanbul, telling them Khashoggi was a threat to Saudi Arabia’s national security, according to a Saudi prosecutor’s statement.
Roth, who spoke with Callamard last week before she landed in Turkey, said her investigation will be successful if she can determine who ordered Khashoggi killed.
“If she can reach a conclusion about the authorship of Khashoggi’s murder, that’s very important,” he said. “That’s what she is trying to do.” Even though it was not a criminal inquiry, “this is the highest profile investigation that has taken place by a respected international figure,” he said.
Roth said that if Callamard and the three other experts investigating the case do not get enough cooperation from the CIA, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, it could increase pressure for a full-fledged U.N. probe.
“Guterres is clearly not eager to take on the Saudis,” Roth said. “For the time being, the best we have is the special rapporteur.”
Callamard said she aims to complete her investigation by late May and present it to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which appointed her special rapporteur, in June.
Morello reported from Washington.