In search of accountability: The open secret of Jamal Khashoggi's murder

In search of accountability: The open secret of Jamal Khashoggi's murder
Comment: How can justice for Jamal Khashoggi be served, when an international climate of impunity prevails? asks Sophia Akram.
5 min read
10 Jul, 2019
Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated at the Saudi embassy in Turkey last October [Getty]
When Agnes Callamard - UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - released the findings of her investigation into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi last month, no-one was surprised.

Callamard found evidence that Kashoggi's murder was premeditated and that orders for it came from the top, implicating Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS).

At the time, Saudi Arabia was quick to issue denials,
but their story changed rapidly, as more details surfaced. While the US feigned initial concern, and there were even boycotts from big business and the global financial community, it wasn't long before a sense of 'business as usual' resumed.

Despite Khashoggi's murder capturing the indignation of the world's media, taking this attack on one of their own as a particular blow to freedom of expression, the key question of how and if justice will ever be served, remains unanswered, and is at risk of becoming a rhetorical device.

In an ideal world, the power of the media would work to expose the truth to the wider public, which in turn should tug on the strings of political will.

But in reality, although public opinion of Saudi Arabia is at a low, politically speaking the Kingdom's main allies appear to be firmly by its side.

President Trump 
would not even commit to an FBI investigation on hearing the findings, and made plain that at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia brings in the money the US economy needs.

This kind of impunity empowers a nation knowing that some of the most powerful states are willing to turn a blind eye to any crime, no matter how horrific

Callamard's report is advisory, and she has put forward recommendations for the international community, the states involved, and the UN.

She was forced to take on the task when it appeared no other part of the UN was going to, as she explained at a discussion at Amnesty International's UK offices this evening. 

And for a country that has been continuously forgiven for the most atrocious crimes. What is the potential for justice?

"The kidnapping and detention of Saad Hariri in November 2017 should have warned the international community," Callamard said recently. "There is no historical precedent of a country's prime minister being kidnapped by another country."

Saudi Arabia has been forgiven, by governments, for a war of attrition in Yemen. It has been accused of violations of international humanitarian law and of potential war crimes.

In addition to his dealings abroad, MbS' has been attempting to revamp the country's image, but allegations of human rights abuses - this time
against its own citizens - continue to materialise. 

Calls for the US to cut arms exports to the Kingdom have seen progress, as long as Trump's veto is the last word, ties will remain steadfast. This kind of impunity that Saudi Arabia has so far enjoyed, no doubt empowers a nation knowing that some of the most powerful states are willing to turn a blind eye to any crime, no matter how horrific.

The truth is that Kashoggi's killing is not Saudi's first crime, nor is it likely to be its last.

The killing, Callamard said could be concluded as nothing other than a state killing, which has involved deprivation of life and it is still an enforced disappearance as the body has not been found.

Saudi Arabia show of pursuing justice, Callamard notes, involves a trial of fairly low-level individuals.

But justice should be considered in terms of judicial accountability, "that is usually what we consider justice" said Callamard, something that will be difficult to get but is still important to ask for.

There are other options however, that can be framed in political, diplomatic and financial form, states Callamard.

For example, individual sanctions should be placed on the Crown Prince until it can be proved he has nothing to do with the incident.

State sanctions should also cover surveillance equipment, given the actions the Saudi state is taking against its own citizens. She also notes that homage can, and should be paid to Khashoggi, in the naming of buildings and streets, in order to keep his name alive as a symbol of freedom of expression, and in the public consciousness.

The public, too can still can play an important role, when governments fail to take action, making them pay at the election booth when they work against what the courts, the senates and institutions of justice have ruled as fair and lawful.

"Ask our government what they do, they do in our name," said Callamard, which is something that must start now.

Saudi human rights activist Yahya Assiri, who spoke alongside Callamard, said that the media must not treat the Saudi line as a credible source, and reiterated that pressure must come from outside the country.

It's clear that the road to justice will not be straightforward or conventional. But allowing the report's recommendations to go unheeded would, said Hatice Cengiz - Khashoggi's fiance - simply place future activists at risk. 

Callamard's report must be seen as a positive step that adds to the body of evidence out there documenting Saudi Arabia's crimes.

The recent UK ruling deeming arms exports illegal is a good example of the power of continuous lobbying and genuine outrage coming from members of the public and civil society.

Fear of impunity shouldn't hinder the pursuit of justice, and voices for change should continue to ring louder. And as Karen Attiah - Jamal's former editor at the Post - stated, it shouldn't take martyrs to hear voices from Saudi Arabia.

It's up to the media to listen, and hear them screaming for change.

Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a special interest in human rights particularly across the Middle East.

Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.