Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres (left) meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on 12 February 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. - Photo: 2018

Will UN Chief Explore the Truth Behind Khashoggi Slaughter?

By Erol Avdovic

NEW YORK (IDN) – Pressure is mounting on the United Nations to set up an independent commission to investigate apparently premeditated and the barbaric killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Consulate General of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul on October 2. And UN Secretary-General António Guterres faces growing public chorus pushing him in that direction.

The civil society is increasingly frustrated why the UN chief doesn’t use the moral authority bestowed on him by the UN Charter. He could report the matter to the UN Security Council where Saudi Arabia could face serious diplomatic scorn and even sanctions if found complicit in the journalist’s murder as the Kingdom has confessed. 

Sherine Tadros, head of the New York office of Amnesty International and its representative to the United Nations, told IDN she is even “not sure whether the UN is handling the Khashoggi affair”. Instead those in the headlines on the issue are Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

“Turkey’s investigation is extremely politicized and their results are leaked in a very strategic and cynical way. On the other hand, you have Saudi Arabia whose account of what has happened to journalist Khashoggi seems to change day by day,” said Tadros, pointing out that the Saudis are telling “clear lies”.

Peace and security issue

As reported, the Turkish intelligence was able to follow Khashoggi’s killing “live”, and then carefully dosed disclosure of recorded material gradually to the public through media organizations.

So far, as reported by various media outlets, all traces lead to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), who is believed to have known that his 15-man death squadron will carry out a gruesome job in Istanbul. 

Many believe that is exactly the basis for an independent and international investigation and UN should be on top of it.

Some say Khashoggi’s murder even represents a threat to peace and stability. And such an issue should be taken up by UN Secretary-General and dealt with great attention. But, Guterres has been so far reluctant to take necessary steps in that direction, while waiting for other UN member states to undertake an initiative, especially the powerful ones.. 

Speaking at an international conference in the Middle East in Manama, Bahrain, U.S. Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis said, the killing of Khashoggi “undermines regional stability”, and that the U.S. “plans to take further action in response”. 

Asked whether the UN Secretary-General shares that view, Guterres’ Spokesman said his boss had spoken out “extremely clearly” on the “global issue” of targeting and killing of journalists. But Stéphane Dujarric apparently tried hard to avoid responding whether Khasshogi’s killing represents the treat to regional security. 

He instead offered a broad view that “this is something of great concern to him (the Secretary-General).”  

UN’s reluctance to take a lead and insist on repeating balanced and carefully worded statements on the banks of the East River in New York without finger-pointing the main culprits has only evoked the old geopolitical dilemma of what comes first – interests or values? 

In the Middle East arena, Saudi Arabia is a major buyer of U.S. and European arms. But the situation may change after the gruesome killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Germany has, for instance, halted arms exports to the Kingdom, and Economy Minister Peter Altmaier has called for a joint European position on any further arms exports to Riyadh.

Yet, being a key Western player in the region, there is, as some suggest, a clear “business imperative” in Washington and in other European capitals.

At the same time things are also moving in a slightly different direction since global energy production is shifting in favor of the U.S., while Saudi Arabia is still a major if not the leading petrol producer. Riyadh is among the leading forces in OPEC – oil price forming organization that could deliver chaos or stability on the world petrol market.

Saudi Arabia is also chief financial contributor for some UN based projects. The Kingdom was a major donor with 100 million US dollars for establishing the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) in 2011. UNCCT Advisory Board consisting of 21 UN member states with the European Union (EU) as a guest member. Permanent representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN ambassador, Yahya Al-Moualimi, chairs the Board.

Since he took the position in June 2017 Bin Salman has developed cordial relations with the UN and Secretary-General Guterres. Crown Prince visited UN headquarters in New York and had a friendly meeting with the Secretary-General in March 2018.

According to a written statement, the UN expressed “deep gratitude” for the $930 million provided by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to the Yemen Humanitarian Fund of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Nevertheless, the UN continued to criticize Riyadh for its military operations in Yemen and even expose severe human rights violations hurting civilians by Saudi led military coalition there.

While the U.S. media once considered MBS a reformer, he is being increasingly described as someone above the law, and viewed mainly responsible for misconduct in the war in Yemen. Reports depict Bin Salman as enjoying the protection of Trump and point to his apparently close business relation with the President’s son-in-law,  Jared Kushner.

Some experts maintain that Saudi Arabia is working behind the scenes in Washington and at the UN to ensure that Bin Salman wouldn’t face any consequences in the aftermath of the troubling killing of Khashoggi. And that reportedly is the reason the United Nations is waiting to take a decision on launching an investigation into Khashoggi’s killing.

Saudi Arabia is also the chief proxy power in U.S. efforts to contain Iran. The Kingdom is pretending to stay the aleader of Sunni Muslims in clear rivalry with Turkey. Although Turkey is NATO member it is also increasingly annoying Washington ally since Ankara build on closer relations with Russia. 

Turkey on call

Human Rights Watch an organization for monitoring global rights issues continues to call particularly on Turkey “to urgently request that the UN Secretary-General immediately launches an investigation into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.” 

“Only the UN can provide credible results,” Louis Charbonneau, the United Nations director at Human Rights Watch told IDN. 

But, Turkey has to fully cooperate.

“While we welcome indications from the UN and Turkey that they would be open to an international investigation, we need to move quickly and make it a reality,” Charbonneau insists. 

Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported that on October 31. Authorities in Istanbul shared with Saudi prosecutor “some visual evidence in the case”.

According to the same source, Turkish officials were in “a deep distrust toward Saudi prosecutor (Saud Al) Mojeb as he repeatedly refused to answer questions about the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body”.

Also a senior Turkish official told the French news agency AFP that “Saudi officials appeared unwilling to genuinely cooperate with Turkey.”

So far Ankara has not made any request to Secretary-General Guterres to go forward with UN investigation, deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed by phone to IDN. 

“The UN Secretary General has the authority to launch the investigation, however if it is to be effective Turkey has to comply since this has happened at their territory,” Amnesty International UN representative said, asking Turkey to hand over all the information have. 

Sherine Tadros also recognized the “reality that Turkey is one of the biggest jailers of the journalists in the world,” and that is probably the reason why the Turkish government is “not happy” with UN to step in and investigate this killing. 

But, it seems the UN itself is not in a hurry to investigate the case that has aroused immense interest around the whole world as rarely ever before. 

Pressed by UN reporters for a clearer response weather the UN Secretary-General will launch an international investigation, and to explain whether the first statement on Khashoggi by the newly appointed UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet of Chile, was not a call for an independent and international investigation, the UN spokesperson explicitly said: “No. It was not.”

Dujarric said Guterres “would like to see the two countries most involved in this, conduct an investigation.” He added, the “diplomatic relationships between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are very important to the stability of the region.”

But human righst activists say Guterres needs to speak much more publicly and forcefully with concrete steps to make the international investigation happen. 

“It’s essential that the perpetrators be identified – even if that leads to the highest levels of the Saudi leadership,” said Charbonneau. 

Human Rights Watch UN director wants the member states to “use their influence with Turkey to emphasize the importance of a credible international investigation by the UN.”

Charbonneau says they “should also encourage the UN leadership in New York in this regard as well.”

Guterres should come forward

The need of the hour is simply “to do right now the right thing and take some leadership,” Amnesty International Tadros said as well. She stressed, the world is “at the crossroads where human rights including the rights of journalists and the freedom of expression and speech are under attack.

“Actually we are talking about the need for the Secretary-General to step up at this moment. It’s really a no-brainer. The world is asking for the truth.”

Experts say there is need of a real human rights champion – but not in the form of any world leader since most politicians are in over-excessive calculation between their own interests and common moral obligations. 

But somebody has to lead the mobilization of those who seek the truth. Nothing but  the truth.

“So we need a champion in the UN Secretary-General,” Tadros said. 

While asking journalists to read out #JamalKhashoggi‘s last piece, Sherine Tadros also wrote on her Twitter account the last day of October: “We need a UN investigation to get to the truth so that we have a chance of holding those responsible to account.” 

The Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch recently made a joint statement at the press conference in UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) in New York appealing for an independent UN investigation into the torture and horrible murder of Khashoggi. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 November 2018]

Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres (left) meets with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on 12 February 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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