UN Khashoggi probe wraps up in Turkey: what next?

Saudi Arabia refused to cooperate with UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s inquiry into Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.

Agnes Callamard
Agnes Callamard met Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, as part of the investigation [Cem Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP]

United Nations, New York – As the United Nations‘ investigator into the death of Jamal Khashoggi leaves Turkey this weekend, it remains unclear whether her inquiry will get world powers to push harder to bring the Saudi journalist’s killers to justice.

Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said she was a “bit disappointed” with the information she obtained following a week of talks with Turkish ministers, intelligence chiefs and Istanbul’s top prosecutor.

According to reports, Callamard was allowed to listen to Turkey‘s audio recordings of Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Riyadh has not cooperated with the probe, and she was not granted interviews with Saudis or access to the three-storey building.


Tough response? 

Al Jazeera spoke with several experts on the case, who all said that the key questions remaining are who Callamard names as the plotters and whether her dossier motivates a tough response from world powers.

“As Callamard leaves Turkey, there are hopes that her report lays a crucial foundation to bring those responsible for Khashoggi’s brutal murder to account, including any officials behind the killing,” Balkees Jarrah, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.

“The big questions are over what evidence she has had access to, how she frames her report and, perhaps more importantly, whether the international community has the stomach to pursue this to some kind of full criminal prosecution.”

Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic who lived in the United States and wrote for the Washington Post, was killed on October 2 at the consulate, where he had gone to collect documents for his planned wedding. 

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, whose body was reportedly dismembered.

Saudi officials have denied Prince Mohammed’s involvement and described a “rogue operation” carried out without his knowledge. Last month, a trial opened in Riyadh of 11 defendants over the killing, though several rights groups say it lacks credibility.

Callamard said her inquiry was launched on her “own initiative”, with an invitation from Ankara. She told Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News that she had “felt the duty” to investigate as the UN and its members were not pushing for a criminal investigation.

The French academic was joined in Ankara and Istanbul by Helena Kennedy, a top British lawyer and Member of the House of Lords, and Duarte Nuno Vieira, a forensic scientist and professor at Portugal’s University of Coimbra. 

Ignore, investigate, or move up

Callamard is understood to have heard the grisly audio recordings of Khashoggi’s last moments, which are in Turkey’s possession and were previously shared with CIA director Gina Haspel, as well as Germany, France and Britain.

The tapes reportedly include the killing itself and feature Saud al-Qahtani, one of Prince Mohammed’s top aides. Other tapes, predating the murder, led Turkey to conclude early on that the killing was premeditated despite Riyadh’s denials.

She also spoke with Kashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Yasin Aktay, an aide of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told Bloomberg that the crown prince was the “No 1 suspect” in the murder.

After reporting to the UN’s Geneva-based human rights body, Callamard said its 47 members would discuss her recommendations but that it was down to the “willingness” of governments to “take the issues forward”.

The council could effectively ignore her dossier, use it as a basis for a fuller investigation, or move the issue up a level in the UN system to the Security Council and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The Security Council can set up tribunals, inquiries or refer cases to the International Criminal Court. In the past, the UN’s top tier has launched probes into the assassinations of Rafik Hariri of Lebanon and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.

Even if Callamard is ignored, her dossier could buttress a case in a country with universal jurisdiction laws that enable prosecutors in Spain, Australia, Finland and elsewhere to try crimes committed abroad.

‘Orchestrate global outrage’

According to Merve Tahiroglu, a Turkey expert at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think-tank, Ankara has used the death to hurt Riyadh diplomatically and would work alongside other countries and campaigners to advance the case at the UN.

“Ankara’s goal has been to orchestrate global outrage over the killing and turn its western, NATO allies against MBS,” Tahiroglu told Al Jazeera.

“Callamard’s probe offers another route for achieving this, as a strong report in Geneva could shunt the issue towards a criminal investigation under the UN Security Council.”

But while Turkey may seek to embarrass Riyadh, there is less appetite across the global community to shame such a major player in the global oil and arms markets, said Sigurd Neubauer, an independent Middle East analyst.

While several prominent US senators have blasted Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s death and drafted laws to stop supporting Riyadh’s war in Yemen, US President Donald Trump has stood by the young leader.

“The problem with Callamard’s probe is that it doesn’t change anything. We already know what’s in the tapes, what the CIA concluded and that the evidence trail leads to the highest levels in the Saudi government,” Neubauer told Al Jazeera.

“But we also know how that for her report to go anywhere, it needs support from the big powers. And the US and others seem to have concluded that they’re going to stick with the Saudi leadership, even if it was behind a brutal murder.”

Neither Callamard’s office in Geneva nor Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington responded to Al Jazeera’s requests for interviews.

Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl

Source: Al Jazeera