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Interview: UN Special Rapporteur Callamard on Khashoggi Report

Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, speaks to reporters at the U.N. human rights office in Geneva on Wednesday, June 19, after releasing her report into the killing of Saudi journalist…
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, speaks to reporters at the U.N. human rights office in Geneva on Wednesday, June 19, after releasing her report into the killing of Saudi journalist…

VOA’s Geneva Stringer Lisa Schlein interviews Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, regarding her report on the killing of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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Q: “Let's see, this morning before the interview, I received a- an email from the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia and he had some rather unflattering remarks to make in regard to you and your report, saying that- accusing you of publishing unfounded allegations and accusations and that it's an encroachment upon its sovereignty which is unacceptable, and also questions your competency to present an objective and impartial report. How do you react to that criticism?”

CALLAMARD: “It's unfortunate that, yet again, the authority of Saudi Arabia refused to engage with the substance of my report and of the allegations, choosing instead to- to use, as you put it, unflattering comments and- and focusing on me as a person rather than on the reports. They have repeatedly said yesterday that my allegations were unfounded, but they did not specify which allegations they did not agree with, and they've remain at the very general level, and in my view, demonstrating their unwillingness and inability to confront their responsibilities as a state.”

Q: “They also said that you used unnamed experts and sort of dodgy sources, if I may say, so if I could ask you in answering this question too, what were your sources? Where did you get your information, and is there any truth to using unnamed sources that lack a certain credibility?”

CALLAMARD: “The reason why I have decided not to name the sources is a question of security for the sources. The authorities of Saudi Arabia are known, this has been well reported, well demonstrated, they are known to engage in threatening activities against people that they do- they deem to be a threat to their, to their governance system, and that people who are dissident, people who are journalists, friends and colleagues of Mr. Khashoggi. So for this reason I decided I will not name people who could find themselves at harm's way on the part of Saudi Arabia. There are many other sources that I could have named that didn't oppose me naming them, just for the- for the sake of consistency, I opted not to not to name anyone. However, the- I have at my disposal a list of all the person I have interviewed, I know which quote is done by whom. We have kept very careful information and details of where the information came from, and I will be willing to hand over that information to an international criminal investigation. I will not, however, repeat NOT, hand over that information to the Saudi authorities because they have demonstrated time and time again that they cannot be trusted with the safety of my sources.”

Q: “Now you say that you will hand this over to a criminal investigation. One of the points that the Saudis make is that your own investigation is not an official or binding report. Perhaps you could answer to that, and- and what is the importance of having a criminal investigation? You have called for the secretary general and perhaps others to- to begin such a thing.”

CALLAMARD: “Yes. So I have as I have said from the beginning in- in January, when I announced my inquiry, this is a human rights inquiry under the auspices of my mandate as a special rapporteur. I have been appointed by the Human Rights Council, which is an assembly of member states, to monitor and report on situations related to extrajudicial executions. It is my decision to determine where I am going to put my effort and what I am going to report on. It is within the context of the mandate allocated to me by the U.N., attributed to me by the U.N., that I have undertaken this- this human rights investigation. I am not the U.N. Security Council, which is- which has the authority of imposing binding decisions. I call upon the Human Rights Council and other U.N. decision making to undertake a number of steps, which will be binding. So that's with regard to the nature of my investigation. This being said, I would like to insist upon the fact that I have followed the most important and demonstrated standards to assess the credibility of the information I have received. I have been very careful not to extract conclusions from information and sources I could not authenticate. That is reflected throughout the 101 page long report. I question the idea that the Saudi authorities have even read the report, because if they had, they will have noted how careful I am to- to make conclusions, Human Rights conclusions, on the basis of credible information. My inquiry was not based on international criminal law. It was a human rights inquiry. In that context, I have focused on the nature of the evidence regarding individual liability but I have refrain from making final conclusions. What I have said is that there is enough evidence pointing to the need for a criminal investigation.”

Q: “Can a criminal investigation hold the, depending upon its findings, hold the Saudi Arabian government, individual persons and so forth, accountable to bring them to justice in a way that your own endeavors are unable to do that, it would it would have an international credibility that is important, do you believe?”

CALLAMARD: ” I don't think it's a question of international credibility. I believe my inquiry has international credibility and I have noted over the last 36 hours the reactions that to my mind demonstrate the credibility and the international nature of what I have done. What a criminal investigation can do are three things: first- first, they will focus and they will use criminal law to assess the- the evidence. I have relied on international human rights law to assess the evidence and I have focused heavily on the responsibilities of the state. OK? What the criminal investigation will do is using, framing the issue through the lenses of criminal law in order to assess individual liability. So that's one thing they can do. The second thing they can do is to then determine where- what will be the best jurisdiction, the most effective mechanism, to- to deliver accountability. I have- this was not part of my mandate, I have suggested that there are mechanisms, such as a hybrid tribunal which could be done with Saudi Arabia and Turkey. It could be an international Ad-Hoc tribunal, indeed it could be done by and through the Saudi Arabian system, provided it is willing to endorse and implement international guarantees regarding trials. So that's the second thing that an international criminal investigation could do. And then the third one, of course, is that they could call upon the Secretary General of the Security Council to demand that this process of accountability be binding upon all individual and state concerns. Me? What I have done is suggest that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi is a question and an issue that raises to the level of universal jurisdiction. In other words, I have called upon member states that have domesticated universal jurisdiction to take the necessary measures, to investigate and indeed try whoever may be on their territories who is associated to the crime and for whom there is credible evidence that they participated to the crime. That's what I have done. This is not binding on anyone, this is a recommendation on my part.”

Q: “Oh so that's akin to for- because I was confused about you, what Universal Jurisdiction meant. But I recall that years ago, I think it may have been Spain that went after the former dictator of Chile, who was there at an estate that is not intimately implicated in where the crime was committed, nonetheless has jurisdiction or ability to try the person.”

CALLAMARD: “Exactly. That's exactly what it means.”

Q: “OK. Well while we're on the issue of international capability or lack of it how, how do you, how do you view the reaction of the international community in regard to Saudi Arabia? Do you believe that it has failed in- in terms of the abhorrent killing and taking sufficiently strong action against the Saudi Arabia? In other words, has the Saudi Arabia got away with the crime?”

CALLAMARD: “So I welcome the fact that the majority of members of the international community have denounced in the strongest terms the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. However, the actions taken in response to the killing are focused on individuals. They have not taken into account the fact that the crimes committed against Mr. Khashoggi was a state killing. It was, by all intents and purposes, on the basis of the evidence available. There is no other possible conclusion. The state is an extrajudicial execution for which the state is responsible in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. The international community has not taken that into account. They moved rapidly to identify 15, 17 individuals for targeted sanctions. I have nothing against individualized targeted sanctions. I think they are actually very welcome under many circumstances. I think that in that particular case, they are not effective. They are focusing on what I will refer to as rather lower level officials. They have not tackled the chain of command. So those individualized sanctions could be seen as a smokescreen. And in my report I therefore call on member states, and on the international community to, to use the evidence I have collected and demonstrated to take actions against the state of Saudi Arabia, and to call on the state of Saudi Arabia to undertake a number of measures, particularly those related to non-repetition.”

Q: “What is the role of the crown prince in all of this? Is it conceivable that what you call a premeditated execution that this could have occurred without his knowledge and perhaps his intimate involvement in this?”

CALLAMARD: “So what I point out in the report- the reference I make is that there is credible evidence pointing to the need of criminal investigation. What is the credible evidence? It is derived from my understanding of what responsibility entails. In the aftermath of the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, people have focused heavily on who ordered the crime. What I point out in the report is that there is a range of responsibilities that are, that may amount to criminal liability. It's not just about who ordered the crime. It is also about who may have directly or indirectly incited the crime. It is also about who may have known that a mission was undertaken, but failed to take action to stop it. It's about somebody who may have known that there was an intention to harm Mr. Khashoggi, but failed to take action to prevent it. It may be about somebody who turn a blind eye to repeated allegations of human rights violations in the months or years preceding the killing. It may also be about responsibility derived from somebody who was involved in the commissioning of those violations before the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and therefore should have known that such violations could also include as the deed of killing of an innocent individual as Mr. Khashoggi was. All of those responsibilities, those matters, those notions of responsibilities should be taken into account, and can be the object of an, of an criminal investigation. In my opinion the- it is difficult to imagine that the Crown Prince at the minimum was not aware that the violation that had taken place for the last year before the killing could easily lead to something else, such as the extrajudicial killing of Mr. Khashoggi. He has been directly named in relationship to a range of human rights violations. He was a direct employer of someone who is now seen, including by a range of governments, Mr. Al-Qahtani as the team leader of the, of the assassination of Mr. Khashoggi. So for all those reasons, I believe that the Crown Prince should be the subject of a further criminal investigation, in order to determine whether or not he had any kind of responsibilities for the killing.”

Q: “But do you believe that the evidence points toward him?”

CALLAMARD: “I believe that the evidence points to the necessity of doing a formal criminal investigation. I am not concluding, I am not proposing making any final conclusions regarding the nature of these responsibilities. What I am saying is that the responsibilities can take many shapes and forms. It’s not only about whether or not he ordered the crimes and the other forms of responsibilities must be considered as well.”

Q: “There are currently eleven people who are on trial for the murder, the killing of Khashoggi. How do you view this trial? Is it credible? Are these- the main suspects, the main people who are involved in this?”

CALLAMARD: “The trial in Saudi Arabia presents many shortcomings which in fact amount to a violation of international standards regarding fair trial guarantees. The Saudi authorities are insisting on treating that trial as a domestic affair. They have failed to take into account the fact that this is an international crimes for which the international community has a stake. And that means full transparency regarding the proceedings, full transparency regarding the identity of those on trial, full transparency regarding the charges. None of that has been forthcoming thus far. I should also add that under a Saudi domestic system, there has been occasions when the Saudi prosecutor or judge have revealed the identity of those on trial. That's just not done so, in that particular case. So it is my conclusions based on my assessment of what's happening right now, that this trial will not meet international standards regarding fairness, and two cannot satisfy the international community that accountability will be delivered. Therefore I call for the trial to be stopped until there is conditions put in place under international scrutiny and cooperation, that the trial could proceed and deliver full accountability.”

Q: “How sure or optimistic do you believe that a criminal- an international criminal trial will actually take place? I ask this question because Saudi Arabia is a powerful country and a lot of nations don't want to anger the government. They- they like the money that they get from Saudi Arabia. So how do you overcome that?”

CALLAMARD: “It's a valid fear or concern, and in my report I do highlight the fact that judicial accountability is gonna be difficult. I make no- I do not hide that, that fact. However, it is incumbent upon me as a special rapporteur to make the recommendations that are in keeping with the International human rights standards. So, I have made those recommendations knowing that their implementation may be difficult and hampered, at least immediately. As the history has shown, accountability can be delivered many years later. And I suspect very strongly that this will be the case. And I will not suggest right now that there will not be any judicial accountability first. Secondly, I have insisted in my report that the accountability can take many forms and shapes. It does not just have to be judicial. Justice can be rendered through political means, through financial means, through strategic and symbolic instrument. And I am making a range of recommendations that touch upon Jamal Khashoggi’s work. For instance, the protection of democratic values and press freedom in the Middle East. I call upon a member state to invest heavily into that protection. I call upon member state to implement measures so that dissidents from Saudi Arabia, but more largely from around the world, are better protected against their governments or non-state actors. So there are a range of other things, including sanctions that can be done. I call upon the corporate sector to implement the U.N. guiding principle regarding their own responsibilities in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. So there are a range of measures that can be taken to render homage to Mr. Khashoggi and to ensure that his killing will not be repeated.”

Q: “How would you assess the response of the Trump administration to the Khashoggi killing? Has it been adequate, has it been inadequate, has it gone enough, is there more that it should do?”

CALLAMARD: “The US administration has made some very strong statements regarding the killing, they’ve denounced the killings. They were the first to move forward, I believe, with the individualized sanctions, which, as part of the implementation of the global Magnitsky Act among other things, is welcome. At this point, I believe that there are other steps that the US government could undertake. I am suggesting in my report that the FBI undertake an investigation into the killing in order to determine whether steps could have been taken to prevent it. I’m calling on the CIA to reveal and to make public its assessment of the killing, and its assessment of the responsibilities. I’m calling on the CIA to disclose, as well, the nature of the intercept that was the object of reporting in the media. So there are a range of additional measures that the US Government, that the US authorities more generally, should take. I’m hoping there will be follow up steps taken very shortly.”

Q: “Have you been in contact with any US officials regarding the, your report?”

CALLAMARD: “Well, yes. Before the report was made public, I had many meetings with US officials.”

Q: “I see, so you have a certain optimism that perhaps some more, stronger measures may be taken against the Saudi government.”

CALLAMARD: “I think the US government has many checks and balances, has many bodies, institutions that could take actions. I’m not necessarily suggesting that the White House will take action. But there are certainly other institutions within the government that could do so, and I’m hoping that they will move in that direction.”

Q: “I would like to know, why is this case important? You’re only dealing with one man. It has been observed from a number of quarters that, take the case of China for instance, where you have a reported million Uighurs who are in a concentration camp, a so called re-education camp, which is just a huge number of people forced to live in a kind of horrific situation. So you’ve got that, opposed to one man, Mr. Khashoggi, why is this important?”

CALLAMARD: “So I'm only going to talk from the standpoint of my mandate, which is extrajudicial arbitrary executions, to point out that in the context of my work I have indeed tended to focus on a situation of massive deprivation of life. I have in particular for instance, looked at the situation in the Philippines, where thousands of individuals have lost their life in the context of a police operation against so-called, in the context of the war on drugs. I have done extensive work on Iraq. I've done a mission to Iraq and to El Salvador, where there again we have a situation of massive deprivation of life. So I have extended the scope of my mandate to look at feminine side, the killing of women.

So it is not as if as part of my work, I do not consider those situations. They are and they have been a priority. I have also considered the massive unlawful deaths of migrants and refugees. So until now, my work has concentrated on those situations. When it comes to Mr. Khashoggi, his killing is emblematic of two issues. One, the targeted killings of journalists around the world. Killings that do not go down in numbers, as it should, and killings that usually lead to impunity. That has been a concern of the international community for many years. It has been the object of a Security Council resolution. It has been a priority for the current United Nations Secretary General, and a number of countries are extremely concerned with this pattern of killings of journalists. So that's one thing.Mr. Khashoggi’s killing is emblematic as well of the targeted killings of individuals outside their country. I have noted that over the years, a number of governments are taking action outside their territories to control, to survey, or to indeed kill individuals that they perceive to be a threat, usually to their dictatorship. That is of great concern to me and to the international community because it also not only violates the right to life of those individuals. It also violates the UN Charter regarding the prohibition of the extraterritorial use of force in time, in times of peace. So the killing of Mr. Khashoggi is emblematic of those situations that are top priority for the international community. Through this investigation, I have made a number of findings, a number of learning, and I am making a number of recommendations that are generic and systemic in their scope. I’m calling on member state to, for instance, review how they are implementing their responsibility to protect, and their duty to warn individuals so that this can be more effective at preventing any forms of harm against people targeted for the peaceful expression of their opinions. I am calling on the United Nations to equip itself with stronger and more effective instruments to investigate and to prevent those killings, and I'm making some very detailed recommendations for that purpose. And finally I should say that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi also exhibits, the circumstances of the killings are very unusual in that they embodied several violations. It's a violation of the right to life of Mr. Khashoggi. It's a violation of the prohibition against enforced disappearance, which is a convention. It's a potential violation of the Convention Against Torture. It is a violation of the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations, a very crucial piece for international relations. And it is a violation of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the extraterritorial use of force. In addition, the investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was botched. It did not meet the standard of effectiveness, of transparency, and of international cooperation that are required of such an investigation. And the follow up trial presents the many problems that I have already highlighted. So the killing of Mr. Khashoggi embodies a range of violations that mean that his killing is an international crime that must be thoroughly understood, thoroughly investigated, and actions taken in response to it.”

Q: “One last question please. And that is, you have published a 101 page report. Now what are some of the main findings that you have made that convinced you, persuaded you that this is, was a premeditated extrajudicial execution?”

CALLAMARD: “Okay. So the two avenues to reach that conclusion. First, the extrajudicial execution of Mr. Khashoggi was a state action, and I have reached that conclusion on the basis of the international jurisprudence and international standard regarding state responsibilities. As you know, the Saudi authorities have argued time and time again that it was a rogue operation. I have looked into that process very seriously and I have placed it against the international standards that applies to state responsibilities. My conclusion is that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi can only be described as a state killing. The individuals involved were state officials. They used state means. They used state resources. The killing took place in a consulate. They use a private jet with diplomatic clearance to enter the territories of Turkey. The consul himself was involved in ensuring that there were no witnesses to the killings. The killing was planned in Saudi Arabia at least 48 hours, if not longer, before it actually took place. There is absolutely no way one could; the evidence suggests that this was not what will be considered under international law as falling within the responsibility of the state. That's the first thing. With regard to the premeditation. We looked, I looked at various factors. I was particularly interested to determine whether the killing of Mr. Khashoggi could have been an accident. Again this was one of the hypotheses put forward by the Saudi authorities. I have looked at the evidence, and I had to reject the notion that it was an accident. First, the presence of the forensic doctor within the team indicates to me that some kind of killing was planned. Second, that doctor was part of the mission at least 24 hours before the mission took place. So that's already part indicating of a plan. Thirdly, an hour before the killing took place, this doctor, and someone else in the team, are discussing the dismemberment of a body which is something that actually took place an hour later. The recordings I have listened to indicate that when Mr. Khashoggi loses consciousness, there is absolutely no evidence of the people in the room being surprised, of people in the room taking action to try to resuscitate him. Nothing of that nature. So all of those, and much more information that you can find in my report, indicate to me that the killing is a state killing, falls under the responsibility of the state of Saudi Arabia, and too that it was premeditated. Whether it was planned as a first objective, or as a second objective, if abduction and kidnapping failed, that I cannot ascertain. But there is absolutely no doubt that the planning of the killing was part of that mission.”

Q: “Well thank you so much. This is very rich with information and detail. I absolutely appreciate this interview and it is there is.”