Argentina pressed to probe Saudi prince over Yemen, Khashoggi

Human Rights Watch submits investigation request to Argentina ahead of Mohammed bin Salman arrival for G20 summit.

    Prince Mohammed could be responsible as Saudi Arabia's defence minister for war crimes in Yemen [Bandar Algaloud via Reuters]
    Prince Mohammed could be responsible as Saudi Arabia's defence minister for war crimes in Yemen [Bandar Algaloud via Reuters]

    Argentina has been asked to investigate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for possible war crimes in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    New York-based Human Rights Watch said it submitted the request to Argentina's federal judge Ariel Lijo on Monday.

    HRW's Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said the international rights group took the case to Argentina because Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, will attend the opening of the G20 summit this week in Buenos Aires.

    Argentina's constitution recognises universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture, meaning judicial authorities can investigate and prosecute those crimes no matter where they were committed.

    "We submitted this info to Argentine prosecutors with the hopes they will investigate MBS's complicity and responsibility for possible war crimes in Yemen, as well as the torture of civilians, including Jamal Khashoggi," said Whitson.

    "There's an extremely strong basis for Argentina to closely examine a very broad record of documentation and facts. People around the world are desperate to see real accountability for people who are getting away with terrible crimes," she told Al Jazeera.

    Neither Lijo's office nor the office of Argentina's public prosecutor responded to requests for comment.

    Argentine media cited judicial sources as saying it was extremely unlikely authorities would take up the case against the crown prince, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler.

    The killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of the crown prince, at Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul on October 2 has strained Saudi Arabia's ties with the West and battered Prince Mohammed's image abroad.

    World's worst humanitarian crisis

    Cases taking advantage of universal jurisdiction have had success in the past, most notably in 1998 when Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon was able to order the arrest in London of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

    "The crown prince's attendance at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires could make the Argentine courts an avenue of redress for victims of abuses unable to seek justice in Yemen or Saudi Arabia," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

    Since March 2015, the Saudi-Emirati led coalition has carried out scores of indiscriminate air attacks on civilians in Yemen, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, and mosques. The alliance has also imposed a naval and air blockade on Yemen that has severely restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians.

    The UN estimates about 14 million people, half the country's population, are facing famine.

    The United States and other Western countries have increasingly called for an end of fighting to address the unfolding humanitarian disaster, the world's worst.

    Senate grilling

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pentagon chief James Mattis will brief US senators on Wednesday on developments related to Saudi Arabia.

    Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Pompeo and Mattis would brief the full Senate at 11am (16:00 GMT) in a closed-door session.

    Corker said he also hoped Central Intelligence Agency Director Gina Haspel would attend.

    Trump last week called Saudi Arabia a "steadfast partner" and said it was unclear whether Prince Mohammed was aware of the plan to kill Khashoggi.

    With tensions high over Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Corker said it was crucial to "hear from the administration as to where this is going".

    The briefing comes as liberal Senator Bernie Sanders moves to re-introduce a resolution, as early as this week, to end US participation in the Yemen war, months after his initial effort fell short.

    Corker signalled it could have broader backing this time.

    "I have a pretty good gauge on how people feel about Saudi Arabia right now, and I'd say we're in a very, very different place than when we kept this from happening" in March, Corker said.

    "I'm considering what the options are to make sure that we deal appropriately with Saudi Arabia on multiple issues right now."

    Republican Senator Marco Rubio also expressed concern, saying he had supported US involvement in the war as a check on Iran's influence and because he believed American technology sold to Saudi Arabia would help avoid the killing of civilians.

    "Unfortunately, that hasn't played out that way," Rubio said.

    Some US legislators have also called for a strong US response to Khashoggi's murder, including blocking arms sales and imposing sanctions.

    US calls for halt to the Saudi-backed war in Yemen

    Inside Story

    US calls for halt to the Saudi-backed war in Yemen

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies