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U.N. expert: Saudi case a 'parody of justice'

The head of the U.N. team that investigated Jamal Khashoggi’s death dismissed pardons that could allow Saudi authorities to release his killers.

GENEVA (AN) — The head of the U.N. human rights team that investigated Jamal Khashoggi’s death called for an international inquiry on Friday while dismissing pardons that could allow Saudi authorities to release his killers.

Agnès Callamard, a United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, described a message on social media by Khashoggi's sons, saying they have forgiven his killers, as part of an elaborate travesty by Saudi authorities to free five Saudi officials convicted of his murder.

In a Facebook post responding to the sons' message, Callamard called on courts in Turkey, the United States and Europe, all of which have jurisdiction, to weigh in on the case, and for the U.S. Congress to push for the Trump administration to release secret findings on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's role. She urged the Group of 20 major economies to bar Saudi Arabia from being able to host the influential forum as its president in 2020.

Callamard recommended that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres order a follow-up inquiry into Khashoggi's killing "focused on the chain of command and associated individual liabilities, including at the highest levels of the state." A review by Arete News in 2018 found just eight previous instances of a secretary-general issuing such an order since 1963. The last was in 2010, in the wake of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

She also suggested creating a permanent U.N. body to investigate targeted killings of journalists.

"Journalists are targeted so that those in power are shielded from scrutiny; so that societies are not informed; so that the truth does not come out," Callamard wrote in a lengthy post on Facebook.

"Investigations into their killings are essential to us all," she said. "Justice for their killings is the surest path by which to root out the abusive power of the corrupt and the corruption of power unchecked."

Her team's investigation into the Saudi journalist's killing inside the Saudi consulate at Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018 found that "credible evidence” exists to justify a criminal probe into the Saudi crown prince and other officials suspected of involvement in a “premeditated extrajudicial execution” that relied on using the agents’ official status and government resources.

The other U.N. team members were Helena Kennedy, a lawyer and baroness, Duarte Nuno Vieira, a professor of forensic medicine, and Paul Johnston, a homicide and major crimes investigator.

'The antithesis of justice'

Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and outspoken critic of his government, had taken up U.S. residence and was working as a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. He showed up at the consulate several days before his murder to request a certificate that he needed to remarry, and was told to return later.

Saudi Arabia indicted 11 people in Khashoggi’s killing, including some from the crown prince’s entourage, and convicted five of them in the case, imposing the death sentence on them.

In November 2018, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said Saudi prosecutors "clearly answered the outstanding questions, charged the responsible parties, identified the roles of those involved in this crime and announced all that with transparency," the government-run Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Saudi justice system allows a victim's family to pardon convicted killers, clearing the way for their release. On Friday, Khashoggi's two sons posted a message in Arabic on Twitter saying they had forgiven their father's killers.

"All of us who, over the last 20 months, have reported on the gruesome execution of Jamal Khashoggi, and absence of accountability for his killing, expected this," Callamard said of the sons' message in her Facebook post.

"The Saudi authorities are playing out what they hope will be the final act in their well-rehearsed parody of justice in front of an international community far too ready to be deceived," wrote Callamard, one of dozens of U.N. special rapporteurs, or investigators, and working groups assigned by the U.N. Human Rights Council at Geneva to examine specific human rights themes and countries.

Callamard likened the "parody of justice" to a four-part theatrical production by Saudi authorities: Act One was their "pretense of an investigation," Act Two was their "pretense of a trial" and Act Three was "the verdict" in a Saudi court last December, sentencing five people to death and jailing three others.

"Act Four is the statement today issued by the sons of 'the Martyr Jamal Khashoggi, pardoning those who killed our father, seeking reward God almighty,' " she wrote. "Thus, under the Saudi system, securing the pardon of all those convicted, the first step towards their eventual release; underscoring that December’s verdicts were the antithesis of justice and instead a purchase of absolute impunity."

The Post reported that Khashoggi's two sons and two daughters received million-dollar houses in Saudi Arabia and monthly five-figure payments as compensation for the killing of their father.

In March 2019, 36 nations including the entire European Union condemned Saudi Arabia in the 47-nation Human Rights Council, an unprecedented move to demand its cooperation with the inquiry by Callamard's team. The statement also called on Saudis to release 10 imprisoned women’s rights activists.