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Khashoggi case: UN expert calls for public trials of accused killers in Saudi Arabia

28 March 2019

GENEVA (28 March 2019) – A UN human rights expert said Saudi Arabia’s closed-door trials of those accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi  have thus far fallen short of meeting international standards.   

Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur leading an independent human rights inquiry into Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, denounced the lack of transparency of  Saudi Arabia’s investigation and legal proceedings.

“The Government of Saudi Arabia is grievously mistaken if it believes that these proceedings, as currently constituted, will satisfy the international community, either in terms of procedural fairness under international standards or in terms of the validity of their conclusions,” she said.

It appears that initially, 21 individuals were detained by the Government of Saudi Arabia as a consequence of its investigation into the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. Eleven of those are currently being tried, five of whom face the death penalty.

“The murder of Mr. Khashoggi was the result of an extrajudicial killing committed in a consulate office on foreign territory,” she said. “Contrary to Saudi Arabia assertions, these are not internal, domestic matters. The rights of the victim and his family are at stake, but so too are the rights of other States under international treaties and law. The investigation and subsequent prosecution should comply with international legal standards and that demands the highest levels of transparency and impartiality.” 

The Government has invited representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council to attend at least some of the court hearings. Callamard cautions them noting that “They risk being participants in a potential miscarriage of justice; possibly complicit should it be shown that the trials are marred by violations of human rights law,” she said. “They should review their cooperation and insist that the proceedings be made fully open to the public and expert international observers.”

A credible investigation of the killing and its proper resolution before a court of law, requires adjudication of the disappearance and murder, based on international human rights law, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and customary law on the sanctity of sovereign territory. “Thus far, the Saudi authorities have not even disclosed publicly the identities of the accused; their roles in relation to the government or the details of the charges they face, and have held the court proceedings behind closed doors,” said the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The Special Rapporteur called on the Government of Saudi Arabia to take material steps towards meeting its international obligations in respect to the investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and death and subsequent prosecutions: 

  1. Make public both the names of all individuals under prosecution and the details of the charges they face; 
  2. Make public all trial proceedings and all evidence against the accused;
  3. Invite international, independent, experts to monitor the trial proceedings;
  4. Make public the details and results of efforts to establish the whereabouts of Mr. Khashoggi’s remains;
  5. Make public the fates of all those initially arrested in relation to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

“The Government of Saudi Arabia will further demonstrate its good faith if it opens its efforts to international review,” Callamard said. “I accordingly renew my request for permission to undertake a country visit to Saudi Arabia as part of my inquiry into the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Khashoggi, to which I would welcome a positive response.” 


Ms. Agnes Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has a distinguished career in human rights and humanitarian work globally. Ms. Callamard is the Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and has previously worked with Article 19 and Amnesty International. She has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world, has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries, and has published extensively on human rights and related fields.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Turkey, Saudi Arabia

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