More than eight months since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, his remains still haven’t been found and individual responsibilities in the killing remain “clouded in secrecy and lack of due process”, according to a long-awaited UN report.
Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, is presenting her findings on Khashoggi’s murder at the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday, one week after her report on the matter was released.
The report concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) should be investigated for his possible role in ordering the killing.
Here are five things you need to know about what has happened since Khashoggi disappeared in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 and what is expected to happen next.
1. Khashoggi’s murder
Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, was killed and dismembered at the Saudi consulate on October 2 when he arrived to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage.
The 59-year-old Saudi insider-turned-critic was strangled and his body cut into pieces by a team of 15 Saudis sent to Istanbul specifically to carry out that operation, according to Turkish officials.
Turkish media reports suggested his remains, which have never been found, were dissolved in acid.
Saudi Arabia’s narrative of what happened changed over time.
They first maintained that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after entering but, as Turkish authorities continued to leak evidence of high-level involvement, Riyadh eventually admitted its agents carried out the killing with a series of contradictory explanations.
On October 20, Saudi Arabia said Khashoggi was killed in their consulate during a fight that broke out between him and officials he was meeting with there. Eighteen Saudi nationals were arrested.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Riyadh did not know where Khashoggi’s remains were and blamed his death on “rogue” agents.
In November the CIA concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s assassination, according to US media reports. The finding contradicts Saudi government assertions that MBS wasn’t involved. US officials expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment.
2. Ban on arms sales
Khashoggi’s murder sparked debate worldwide about banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which emerged as the world’s largest arms importer from 2014-2018, accounting for 12 percent of imports.
A number of European states had already stopped exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia – including Norway, Sweden, Austria, Greece, and the Belgian region of Wallonia – in response to the kingdom’s involvement in an aerial bombing campaign in Yemen, which has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Following Khashoggi’s murder, Germany announced it had suspended supplying arms to Saudi Arabia. It extended its six-month arms embargo in April.
Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands followed suit with the suspension of future approvals of weapons, while Austria advocated for an EU-wide arms embargo.
France, Spain, Italy and Canada however, did not stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday the UK government said it will not grant any new licences for weapons exports to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners, which include the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The US has continued with its “business as usual with Saudi Arabia” approach. However, on Thursday the US Senate rejected – in a 53-45 vote – a plan by US President Donald Trump to bypass Congress and complete $8bn in arms sales to the kingdom.
3. No ‘credible accountability’
In January eleven suspects were indicted for Khashoggi’s murder in Saudi Arabia, which has insisted it will try the case and has refused the extradition of suspects to Turkey.
But the UN human rights office questioned the fairness of the Saudi trial, saying that it was “not sufficient” and called for a probe “with international involvement”.
Last week, the long-awaited UN report revealed that the key suspect in Khashoggi’s murder, Saud al-Qahtani, former adviser to MBS, still hasn’t been charged.
The Saudi prosecutor in November 2018 identified Qahtani as one of the senior officials directly involved in the murder. Yet, according to insider reports, he continues to work with MBS.
Six other members of the hit squad have yet to appear before the court.
With the trial held behind closed doors and the identities of those charged still unreleased, the trial “will not deliver credible accountability,” the UN rapporteur wrote.
4. Targeting dissidents
The UN, human rights organisations and analysts have pointed out that Khashoggi’s murder is emblematic of a larger problem: the widespread Saudi crackdown on dissidents.
A year before Khashoggi was killed, MBS told an aide he would use a bullet on the journalist if he did not return to Saudi Arabia and end his criticism of the government, according to a New York Times report.
MBS was also quoted in US media reports describing Khashoggi as a “dangerous Islamist” in a phone call with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor John Bolton weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance.
The New York Times also reported in March that MBS had authorised a clandestine campaign to silence Saudi dissenters more than a year before Khashoggi’s murder.
The campaign included surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudis, the report said, citing US officials who read classified intelligence reports about the effort.
One of the victims of this group was a university lecturer who reported on the situation of women in Saudi Arabia. She was tortured last year, prompting her to attempt suicide.
5. UN report: “Saudi Arabia is responsible’
There is “credible evidence” linking MBS to Khashoggi’s murder and the crown prince should be investigated, the UN rights expert concluded on June 19.
In her report, UN extrajudicial executions investigator Callamard said Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Callamard said: “There is little doubt in my mind that the killing was premeditated. It was planned.”
Along with a minute-by-minute account of the journalist’s grisly dismemberment based on audio recordings, the report found “credible evidence” that Saudi Arabia had destroyed proof by “thoroughly, even forensically” cleaning the crime scene.
Furthermore, “the Saudi investigation was not conducted in good faith, and it may amount to obstructing justice,” the report stated.
Hours after the release of Callamard’s investigation, a spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres said he could only launch an inquiry with a mandate from “a competent intergovernmental body”.
To pursue a criminal investigation that would oblige all countries to cooperate would require a UN Security Council resolution, he added.
But Callamard said she believed the UN chief “should be able to establish a follow-up criminal investigation without any trigger” by other UN bodies or member states.
Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat and senior fellow at the US-based Atlantic Council think-tank, said Guterres was unlikely to initiate a criminal probe.
“That leaves the Security Council [to trigger an investigation], but I fear the US, under President Donald Trump, will block any action in the Security Council or in the UN General Assembly,” Bryza said, underlining that a change in the US approach would be needed to launch an investigation.
The other relevant body is the UN Human Rights Council. But Saudi Arabia sits on the body and may be able to stop other countries from launching an inquiry.
“These shocking and horrific details make the Saudi government’s claim this was an interrogation that went off the rails seem absurd and impossible to be true … an impartial UN investigation is required,” Bryza added.