EXCLUSIVE: Agnes Callamard vows to continue the fight for #JusticeForJamal

EXCLUSIVE: Agnes Callamard vows to continue the fight for #JusticeForJamal
A year after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions Agnes Callamard shares with The New Arab her experiences investigating the murder
11 min read
03 October, 2019
Callamard has been investigating Khashoggi's murder [Getty]
On 2 October 2018, renowned Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered his country's consulate in Istanbul for routine paperwork and never came out. Over the coming weeks and months, horrifying information about his tragic final moments was dripped out by journalists, politicians and intelligence services, shocking the entire world.

Piecing together a narrative from this is Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions who has been investigating the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Her report revealed a chilling conspiracy at the heart of the Saudi state against press freedom.

Callamard told The New Arab about what she has learned over the past year looking into Khashoggi's murder and why the fight for justice is important to us all.

What are the main obstacles to Jamal's family ever finding justice and are we any closer to gaining the truth about [the chain of command leading to] the murder?

Agnes Callamard: In regard to the chain of command there are a number of things we already know. What we don't necessarily know is the extent and nature of the responsibilities of all the actors in the Saudi state. We can deduce they are implicated in one way or another. It can be in terms of ordering the crime, in terms of inciting the crime… in terms of failing to prevent the crime.

The responsibility of officials...is no doubt. In fact, I'd even suggest that the recent statements from the Saudi prince - that he bears responsibility as head of state - is a recognition that the state is indicted and that this is indeed a state killing for which the state in responsible.

Once you determine that the state is implicated and it is a state crime you then have to unpack the chain of command... while information has been made public at many times by journalists, CIA, US Senators...we do not have any proof that can be deemed credible, at the moment, pointing to who is responsible for ordering the crime.

There are allegations that the CIA has briefed members of the government and the US House that the crown prince ordered the crime. Personally, I do not have access to the evidence pertaining to these allegations so I could not conclude that he did it, but I did conclude that there is sufficient evidence pointing to the involvement of officials - including the crown prince - and therefore an investigation into the chain of command and into criminal responsibility is required.

I think every time [Mohammad bin Salman] is let loose to speak with journalists there is the potential for finding out more.

When will that be done? It's ongoing. Every time there is an opening of procedures within the US House we are coming closer to the truth. It could come through [the] CIA declassifying information at its disposal, it could come through an FBI investigation, it could come through one of the processes initiated at the US Congress asking the intelligence agencies to issue a report on who has ordered, incited and benefited from the crime.

So that can come through various sources. I do not believe it will come from the Saudi judicial system because I do not think it is prepared and does not have the independence properly required to investigate the chain of command.

Read also: A year after Khashoggi - Clarity but no accountability

Do you think the more interviews Mohammad bin Salman gives with the media the more possibilities he could
inadvertently reveal the truth about Jamal's killing?

It is possible, I don't think he was prepared to recognise his responsibilities as he did in the PBS interview, which then led him to the 60 Minutes interview highlighting his responsibility. So I think he has gone further than what he had done [before] which is to recognise his responsibility as head of state. [It] is not sufficient, [but] it is an important step because it means state responsibility which I have always demanded Saudi [Arabia] recognise. But there is far more to be said about the nature and responsibilities. I think every time he is let loose to speak with journalists there is the potential for finding out more.

Could more information coming out linking the Saudi state to the killing lead to other countries putting sanctions on the Saudi state?

I'm not sure many countries will be willing to sanction Saudi Arabia on the basis of the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, but it could consider sanctions on the basis of the continued human rights violations in the country, the imprisonment of the women activists, and on the basis of the evidence of war crimes committed in Yemen.

Are activists using the courts, in their home countries, or universal jurisdiction to make a case against Mohammad bin Salman?

None that I am aware of. The move towards universal jurisdiction for the crime committed against Jamal Khashoggi is not something that can be done very quickly. It will first require on the part of countries to review the universal jurisdiction law to include targeted killings.

Most countries that have adopted universal jurisdiction have listed the crimes that can fall under [it] and usually they include genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression, then some other crimes that are specific to many countries.

For example the UK has some forms of corruption [law], France will have disappearance [law] and so on. So for the crimes against Mr. Khashoggi to be considered for universal jurisdiction [one has] to determine whether the current law will allow them to cover this particular crime and if not they will need to expand the law to include targeted killing.

Also, usually the law will add a criteria related to the extent and seriousness of the crime and... in relation to the number of victims. So that too will need to be changed, according to my report, and I think it must be changed to allow for a single crime... The short answer is it's going to take a while for that judicial process to lead to universal jurisdiction.

Do you think that the Khashoggi case has done damage beyond repair for Mohammad bin Salman's image?

I think it is going to be very difficult for him to repair this despite all of his attempts, despite all of the PR schemes that Saudi Arabia is involved in… trying to strengthen their profile in social media by inviting social media influencers, doing all sorts of sports-related events. I think it is going to take far more than that.

Read also: Jamal Khashoggi's murder - From immunity to impunity

The only way that the damage to that reputation can be addressed successfully is through an actual committed and sustained policy against repression. That would mean releasing all the women who are imprisoned, allowing those who have been habitually detained to be freed, putting an end to the use of torture in prison, all of those steps will have to be taken before the reputation of Saudi Arabia can be made better.

Could there be any truth to the claim that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was carried out without Mohammad bin Salman's knowledge or it was a "rogue operation"?

As I have demonstrated in my report, under international law the rogue operation has a very specific definition and criteria which are not met by the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. The rogue operation is a nice phrase but legally speaking that does not fly, at all. The actors acted in their official capacity, they benefited from state resources, and they committed their crimes in a consulate. The crime was planned for at least 48 hours if not longer. None of that would allow for a rogue operation, hypothetically, to work in any court of law, with the exception of Saudi Arabia - a killing which the state of Saudi Arabia must take responsibility.

Two, you probably understand the state structure better than I do, but it is very difficult to believe that the killing could have been committed without the highest level of the state being informed if not directing the killing. The relationship between the crown prince and some of people who were named as the perpetrators or planners of the killing named by the Saudi consulate have a fairly close relationship [with Prince Mohammad] so that is also another element there.

His personal journey was not a linear one, certainly towards press freedom and democracy.

So a rogue operation, absolutely not. Could it have happened at all without his knowledge that they were to harm, abduct or kill Jamal Khashoggi - it is very difficult to believe. Does that mean he ordered the crime? I cannot say that. Did he incite the crime, it's possible. Did he fail to protect Jamal Khashoggi? Also that is possible. Did he create an environment that allowed actors to behave in the way they did in Istanbul? Absolutely, because the crime against Mr Khashoggi was committed in a context characterised by several months if not more than two years of increasing repression against those who dare think and act in an independent fashion.

What are the next steps you will be taking now this report has been published?

I am going to continue to advocate for accountability and justice and I will continue to suggest that justice is not only about a court of law and those who ordered the killing facing a judge. Yes it should happen but before that... many other things could or should happen.

Truth-telling should continue, whether through the CIA, FBI, investigative reports or Turkey. Sanctions against individuals of the state of Saudi Arabia should be strengthened, there should be political, economic and symbolic gestures on the part of the international community beginning with demanding the G20 meeting next year be held elsewhere other than Riyadh. So there are lots of measures that I will continue to advocate for in the months to come.

[continues below]

Many of Jamal's family are still living in Saudi Arabia. We also saw Jamal's son in the past couple of days commenting on Jamal's murder, which seems to have been influenced, somehow, by the narrative of the Saudi regime. Do you see this as a worrying sign and are you concerned about the safety of Jamal's family in Saudi Arabia?

I cannot speak for them really. The family of those who are imprisoned are always taking risks when they advocate for the well-being of their loved ones who have disappeared or are imprisoned. We know that, they have admitted to this in public, they are under a lot of pressure not to pursue the matter in front of the public, and so on. I have no doubt that the family is under extreme pressure not to do or say anything and so far it seems to have worked.

Finally, I wanted to ask you over the past year and the many interviews you have done, what have you learned about Jamal as a person and as a journalist?

He was a complex person. His personal journey was not a linear one, certainly towards press freedom and democracy, based on my reading of his writing and from what I know from his friends.

I think that is what makes him such an important symbol because here you have someone from within the Saudi system that grew progressively dissatisfied and uncomfortable and frankly unwilling to be part of it. Who imposed on himself to live in exile because he thought he could no longer tolerate what the system required of him and that makes him a very interesting character and one that authoritarian governments in the region will be extremely concerned with.

He didn't get to where he [was] when he was 20 or 25, he is not a young student discovering freedom. He got to his love of freedom and press freedom after many years of reflection and that makes him a dangerous [threat] to authoritarian governments and why Saudi Arabia was so keen to silence him in one way or the other.

He was complex also because he remained socially conservative. He was a Saudi man and yet prepared to fight for everyone's freedom, which also made him dangerous for his government. I know he was soft spoken, he was warm and had many, many, many friends. Even if they disagreed politically he had built many friendships over the years, even when they disagreed with him that is also quite remarkable.

The last thing I will say is the reason why it is so important to continue to fight for justice and truth, meaning to identify who ordered the killing, is if journalists such as Jamal - who was very well known internationally, who was a US resident and was employed by The Washington Post - if he could be murdered and his perpetrators could get away with murder that would be sending an extremely dangerous message to the rest of the world. Because if they could to that to him then frankly no one is safe.

That is why through calling for justice for Jamal we are also making sure that the rest of the world - particularly governments tempted by that kind of behaviour - we are telling them if you do this you will pay a price, and you will pay a heavy price.

That is why we need to keep demanding justice, that is why we need to keep looking for the complete truth. It is why we need to take stock of the accountability deficit that was revealed by the killing of Jamal and ask of our international community to take steps to address the deficit.

Paul McLoughlin is a news editor at The New Arab. 

Follow him on Twitter: @PaullMcLoughlin