IBAHRI urges governments to utilise universal jurisdiction in case of Jamal Khashoggi murder

Monday 22 March 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) urges governments around the world to utilise universal jurisdiction to arrest and try Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the revelation that he approved a plan to ‘capture or kill’ the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Furthermore, the IBAHRI calls on states with operational human rights sanctions regimes, including those that have already imposed sanctions on individuals in Saudi Arabia, to implement sanctions against the Crown Prince also.

IBAHRI Director and member of the United Nations team investigating the murder of Mr Khashoggi, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC commented: ‘Now more than ever it is imperative that states take decisive action to hold Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Unanimous action from the international community, collectively resolving to exercise universal jurisdiction whenever possible, is the only way to send the clear message that such behaviours will not be tolerated.’

The doctrine of universal jurisdiction allows states or international organisations to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where the alleged crime was committed, and regardless of the accused's nationality, country of residence, or any other relation with the prosecuting entity.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG commented: ‘The world has been outraged and disgusted by the murder of the eminent journalist Jamal Khashoggi. His body has been dismembered, the parts that once constituted a living breathing human being disappeared, and the man who the United States identified in a report as having approved a plan to kill Mr Khashoggi remains unassailable. One imagines much laughter at non-governmental organisations’ talk of human rights violations and holding people to account. But this is not a laughing matter. The international community should send an unambiguous message that it is not willing to barter international principles and human rights for political and economic expediency. So, the IBAHRI calls on the international community to act as one and uphold obligations to international law. Universal jurisdiction and targeted sanctions are powerful tools and should be employed, otherwise, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities will persist, and journalists and human rights defenders will continue to be killed with impunity.’

On 25 February 2021, the US government released a four-page intelligence report on the disappearance and death of Mr Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi Arabian government, who was murdered inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey on 2 October 2018. The report concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved a plan to ‘capture or kill’ Mr Khashoggi. The findings were based on the Crown Prince’s ‘absolute control [since 2017] of the Kingdom's security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince's authorization’, and ‘the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of [his] protective detail in the operation.’

Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince rejected the findings of the US intelligence report with the Saudi Foreign Ministry stating the government took ‘all necessary judicial measures’ to prosecute the perpetrators. Five people have each been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The UN decried the trial held as ‘theatre’ and a ‘mockery of justice.’

The UN-appointed Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Agnès Callamard has said: ‘It is extremely problematic, if not dangerous, to acknowledge someone's culpability, and then to tell that someone, we won't do anything; please proceed as if we had said nothing.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc stated: ‘Justice for Jamal Khashoggi has not been achieved. Saudi Arabia, as a matter of primacy, has an obligation towards the protection of human rights, yet this obligation is routinely ignored. Saudi Arabia must take positive steps towards the rectification of human rights abuses. Moreover, it is not appropriate for the international community, through its silence, to continue to condone Saudi Arabia’s human rights breaches. States must now seriously consider exercising universal jurisdiction in a national court so that it is understood that there are real consequences for committing gross human rights violations.’


Notes to the Editor

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  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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