The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi bears the hallmark of an extrajudicial execution, and those who orchestrated his murder “are high enough to represent the state”.
“What we know is sufficient to suggest very strongly that Mr Khashoggi was the victim of an extrajudicial execution,” Agnes Callamard told Al Jazeera.
Khashoggi, 59, a Washington Post columnist and critic Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS) vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
After weeks of denials, the kingdom finally confirmed Khashoggi’s death on October 20, claiming he died in a fistfight.
The claim sparked global outrage which has since mushroomed into a crisis for the world’s top oil exporter.
“First, we know that killing was in the consulate, which is representative of the state of Saudi Arabia,” Callamard said.
“Second, the individuals present at the time of the disappearance and the alleged killing were representatives of the state.
“Subsequently, over the last few days at least, Saudi authorities have recognised individuals at the highest levels of the structures of authority of being involved in the disappearance and the killing.
“All of these elements indicate that the disappearance and now killing of Jamal Khashoggi bear the hallmark of an extrajudicial execution.”
So far, Saudi authorities have arrested 18 people in connection with the killing and fired top security officials considered close to MBS.
The young crown prince has denied having knowledge of the alleged assassination mission and on Wednesday promised to bring those responsible to justice.
Callamard added: “it will now be up to a thorough, impartial investigation to determine how far up this goes and who was the ultimate decision-maker.
“But we have enough right now to determine that the government of Saudi Arabia is responsible and is implicated.”
Faisal Fahad, a Saudi representative at the UN, said Callamard had overstepped her remit with her comments.
“My delegation would like to denounce the statement by the special rapporteur. We call on her not to exceed her mandate on extrajudicial executions. Kindly do not give us any personal opinions in this official meeting,” said Fahad.
For the past three weeks, pro-government Turkish media have been publishing leaked information on the investigation and details of alleged recordings of the murder.
The reports have claimed Khashoggi was tortured and killed by a 15-member “hit squad” from Saudi Arabia.
The Turkish government has so far declined to elaborate on the alleged audio recordings, but on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that CIA Director Gina Haspel had listened to them.
The paper cited an unnamed source as calling the audio evidence “compelling,” adding that it could put further pressure on the US to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for Khashoggi’s death.
While the Trump administration had initially defended the kingdom’s explanation for how Khashoggi was killed, on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said Saudi authorities had staged the “worst cover-up ever”.
Asked by a reporter in the White House how the Khashoggi killing could have happened, Trump said: “They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups.
“There should have never been an execution or a cover-up, because it should have never happened. I would say it was a total fiasco from day one.”
However, the US president has implied that Washington has little obligation to investigate the incident, emphasising that Khashoggi was not a US citizen.
Trump has also insisted that killing will not interfere with US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing a $110bn deal with Riyadh he announced last year.
Meanwhile, in an op-ed for the New York Times, US Senator Bernie Sanders urged Congress to “redefine” Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, saying it was time to “show that the Saudis do not have a blank cheque to continue violating human rights.
“One place we can start is by ending United States support for the war in Yemen,” Sanders wrote.
“The US is deeply engaged in this war. We are providing bombs the Saudi-led coalition is using, we are refueling their planes before they drop those bombs, and we are assisting with intelligence.
“I very much hope that Congress will act, that we will finally take seriously our congressional duty, end our support for the carnage in Yemen, and send the message that human lives are worth more than profits for arms manufacturers.”