Next G-20 summit shouldn't happen in Saudi Arabia, says UN investigator on Khashoggi murder

"The killing of Mr Khashoggi met all of the characteristics of a state killing," UN representative Agnes Callamard said. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials in Istanbul was a "state killing" that should prompt world leaders to reconsider having the Group of 20 summit in Riyadh next year, according to the United Nations expert who investigated the columnist's death.

"The killing of Mr Khashoggi met all of the characteristics of a state killing," Ms Agnes Callamard, the UN expert assigned to investigate Mr Khashoggi's death, said at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Tuesday (July 2). That means the annual G-20 gathering "doesn't happen or it moves elsewhere" so nations are not "complicit" in the crime, she said.

The summit is scheduled for late November 2020.

Ms Callamard, whose detailed report last month concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be probed for his possible role in the murder last year, said any credible investigation must look beyond the officials currently being tried in Saudi Arabia for the killing in October.

"The 11 people on trial at the moment are really at the lowest level. The trial has failed and is failing so far to tackle the chain of command," Ms Callamard said. "The logical next step for me is to identify individual liability in relationship to the killing, particularly within the chain of command."

Mr Khashoggi's murder drew global condemnation, bruising the reputation of Prince Mohammed and prompting bipartisan efforts in the US Congress to limit arm sales to the kingdom. In addition to the murder, the crown prince has been widely criticised for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and his crackdown on human rights and female activists.

In her UN report, Ms Callamard said she found no "smoking gun" and that "no conclusion is made as to guilt". But her efforts revealed new details of audio recordings of the murder and maintained there was "credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials' individual liability, including the crown prince's".

Saudi Arabia dismissed Ms Callmard's report and has repeatedly denied that Prince Mohammed had any role in the death of Mr Khashoggi, a former government insider-turned-critic who was apparently dismembered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His body has never been recovered.

Ms Callamard is the director of Global Freedom of Expression Project at Columbia University in New York and a former senior official of Amnesty International. She has conducted human rights investigations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

At the Brookings event, Ms Callamard said once again that it would be difficult to imagine the crown prince did not know about the killing but said it was important to confirm who gave the direct order and who acted both directly and indirectly.

She also dismissed the Saudi investigation into the murder, saying it did not meet international standards because the crime scene was never secured, that negotiations for a joint investigations with Turkish officials took two weeks to complete and that Saudi officials were on the premises and cleaned the crime scene extensively.

"There is no way I can conclude that the investigation conducted by Saudi Arabia was done effectively, was done in good faith and allowed for international cooperation," she said.

Despite the damage to Prince Mohammed's reputation, he stepped back into the international spotlight at the most recent G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, last week, where he met with leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He also had a warm breakfast meeting with US President Donald Trump, who called him a friend and reformer who is bringing "revolution in a positive way".

"Nobody has pointed a a finger at the future king of Saudi Arabia," Mr Trump said at a news conference in Osaka, ignoring Ms Callamard's findings and the reported conclusion of US intelligence agencies that the prince was probably involved.

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