Special Procedures Sent Joint Communication to Saudi Arabia on Jamal Khashoggi

Throughout October 2018, United Nations (UN) Special Procedures sent three separate joint communications to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expressing concerns over a myriad of human rights violations, ranging from the targeting of human rights defenders to extrajudicial executions for protest-related offenses committed by minors to arbitrary arrests and detentions. This blog series highlights these joint communications and the Kingdom’s response, if it provided one.

On 8 October 2018, UN Special Procedures sent an Urgent Appeal (UA SAU 12/2018) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The communication raised specific concerns about journalist Jamal Khashoggi and allegations of his murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi was a columnist for the Washington Post and former editor of the Saudi newspaper Al Watan, as well as a former media adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal – former head of Saudi intelligence who was also once ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. After criticizing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), Khashoggi entered into self-imposed exile in the United States in June 2017. He entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 to obtain documents certifying his divorce, but he was never seen leaving the consulate. Since his disappearance, unnamed Turkish officials alleged that Saudi agents had killed Khashoggi inside the consulate, and the Saudi narrative of events has shifted multiple times.

Special Procedures offices emphasized Khashoggi’s killing was inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 3: the right to life, security, and not to be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life, and Article 19: the right to freedom of expression and opinion. Reports of Saudi crackdowns on dissent frequent the UN Special Procedures and violate several other international human rights laws, such as the Principles on Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, and the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The mandates called on Saudi authorities to immediately allow for an unhindered international investigation into the issue, especially as Khashoggi’s murder followed a campaign by Saudi authorities claiming he was a foreign-backed agent.

Regardless of the mandates’ requests for additional information and comments on Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government ultimately failed to respond to the communication, making it clear where the murder and its potential implications lie within Saudi priorities. Despite the urgency of the matter and the severity of the allegations, the government of Saudi Arabia ignored this appeal, along with most others, and continues to refuse to cooperate with UN mechanisms.

In Saudi Arabia there has been an ongoing and increasingly concerning pattern of reprisals for critics of the Saudi government. Khashoggi’s case demonstrates just how dire the situation for dissidents in the kingdom has become.

Serena Dineshkumar is an Advocacy Intern with ADHRB