US State Department spokesman says Biden seeks to ‘recalibrate’ not ‘rupture’ US-Saudi Arabia relations.
The UN human rights office has confirmed published remarks by Agnes Callamard alleging that a senior Saudi official had made a threat against her.
UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville confirmed the accuracy of details published in the Guardian newspaper regarding threats to Callamard, the UN expert on summary killings who led an investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in an email reply on Wednesday to Reuters.
The Guardian on Tuesday had quoted Callamard as saying a Saudi official had threatened she would be “taken care of” if she was not reined in following her investigation into the journalist’s murder.
Colville added that the UN human rights office had informed Callamard about the threat in addition to briefing UN security and authorities.
Callamard told the Guardian the threat was conveyed in a January 2020 meeting between Saudi and UN officials in Geneva and that she was told of the incident by a UN colleague.
Callamard led a UN investigation into the October 2018 killing of Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
A senior Saudi official on Thursday rejected the claims that he had threatened Callamard. Awwad Al Awwad, head of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, on Thursday said on Twitter that it had come to his attention that Callamard and UN officials “believe I somehow made a veiled threat against her more than a year ago”.
“I reject this suggestion in the strongest terms,” Alawwad, who is the kingdom’s former media minister, wrote on Twitter.
“While I cannot recall the exact conversations, I never would have desired or threatened any harm upon a UN-appointed individual, or anyone for that matter.
“I am disheartened that anything I have said could be interpreted as a threat.”
There was no immediate comment from Callamard or the UN.
Callamard issued a report in 2019 concluding there was “credible evidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and senior Saudi officials were responsible for killing Khashoggi, a Washington Post newspaper columnist and US resident.
She subsequently called for sanctions against the prince’s assets and a limit to his international engagement.
The prince denies any involvement in the killing but has said he bears ultimate responsibility because it happened under his watch.
The alleged threat was made during a meeting between Geneva-based Saudi diplomats, a visiting Saudi delegation and UN officials, the Guardian reported.
After the Saudi side criticised Callamard’s work in the case, the newspaper reported, one senior Saudi official said he had spoken to people prepared to “take care of her”.
“A death threat. That was how it was understood,” Callamard was cited as saying.
“People that were present, and also subsequently, made it clear to the Saudi delegation that this was absolutely inappropriate.”
Callamard has criticised a Saudi court’s ruling in September to jail eight people for up to 20 years for the murder, accusing the kingdom of making a “mockery of justice” by not punishing more senior officials.
US President Joe Biden’s administration, which has taken a tougher stance on Saudi’s human rights record, last month released an intelligence report that said MBS approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.
The Saudi government rejected the findings and reiterated that the murder was a heinous crime by a rogue group.
Callamard, whose replacement was announced on Wednesday, is taking up a new post as the secretary-general of Amnesty International.
In her letter of resignation from her UN post, Callamard wrote that the work to investigate human rights abuses is “more important than ever, as our world grapples with pandemics, conflict, climate crisis and accelerating technological change”.