The lead investigator for the U.N. probe into the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said on Tuesday that the world’s wealthiest nations have done little to hold Saudi Arabia to account and suggested the kingdom lose the privilege of hosting next year’s Group of 20 summit.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who last month released a 101-page report that provided new details into the plot to assassinate Khashoggi and concluded that the Saudi state was responsible for it, said stripping Saudi Arabia of hosting rights should be part of an international effort for justice in the absence of a credible judicial process.
“It is important to identify other options for judicial accountability and prosecution, but as well for different forms of accountability — political, diplomatic, strategic, cultural,” she said during a discussion at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Her comments came less than a week after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman took center stage at this year’s G-20 summit in Japan, boldly signaling his return to global prominence after Khashoggi’s killing in October.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist who had become increasingly critical of Mohammed, was slain and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 by a 15-member Saudi hit team. Callamard’s report asserted that the crown prince must have at least known about the operation in advance.
“The only conclusion I could reach on the basis of the evidence is that the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible for the killing,” she said on Tuesday.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment on Callamard’s remarks.
So far, Saudi authorities have arrested 21 people in connection with Khashoggi’s killing and charged 11 of them. But Callamard said that accountability should not be “held hostage to the vagaries of legal processes in Saudi Arabia.”
Given the likelihood that the Saudi government was involved in the journalist’s slaying, Callamard said the international community should impose “political accountability” by preventing Saudi Arabia from hosting the next G-20 meeting, scheduled to take place Nov. 21-22, 2020, in Riyadh.
“Political accountability for Mr. Khashoggi will mean that it doesn’t happen, or it’s moved — [that] something is being done to ensure that the political system in the U.S. and other countries does not become complicit of that international crime and of the narrative that Saudi Arabia is trying to sell — fairly effectively, in some quarters — that it has taken the right steps to respond to that,” she said.
So far, the United States has placed sanctions on individual Saudis implicated in Khashoggi’s killing. Callamard said this effectively endorses the Saudi government’s line that rogue actors — rather than the crown prince or the state at large — bear responsibility.
She acknowledged that such state accountability appears unlikely as world leaders and investors have shown a willingness in recent months to move on from Khashoggi’s death.
The Trump administration, in particular, has maintained a close relationship with the crown prince. The White House has blocked congressional efforts to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and insisted that Mohammed was not to blame for Khashoggi’s death. At the G-20 meeting in Osaka last week, Trump firmly defended Mohammed, calling him “my friend” and saying it was a “great honor” to be with him. The crown prince stood in the front row — right next to Trump — for the annual “family photo” of world leaders taken at the summit.
Callamard warned Tuesday that the international community’s reluctance to impose punitive measures on Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s killing “highlight very sharply the democratic deficit within our own countries.”
She praised members of Congress as “quite courageous” for attempting to block American arms sales to the kingdom, but she urged the United States and other governments to do more.
“There is a huge gap between what the public in general is asking and what the elected representatives are ready to do,” she said. “It is really up to us, I think — the electorate — to ensure that our elected representatives do stick to the script for global governance and minimum respect for human rights.”