A senior Saudi official issued what was perceived as a death threat against independent United Nations investigator Agnès Callamard after her investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In an interview with The Guardian, the outgoing special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions said she was alerted by a UN colleague in January 2020 that a senior Saudi official had threatened twice in a meeting with other senior UN officials in Geneva that month for Callamard to “take care of” if it was not stopped by the UN.
When asked how his colleagues in Geneva perceived the comment, Callamard said: “A death threat. That was how it was understood ”.
Callamard, a French national and human rights expert who this month will assume her new position as Secretary General of Amnesty International, was the first official to publicly investigate and publish a detailed report on the 2018 assassination of Khashoggi, a prominent former insider who used his column in the Washington Post write critically about the Saudi government.
Callamard’s 100 page report, published in June 2019, concluded that there was “credible evidence” that the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and other senior Saudi officials were responsible for the murder, calling the murder an “international crime.” Since then, the Biden administration has released its own unclassified report, which concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved the assassination. The Saudi government has denied that the assassination, which occurred at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was ordered by the future king.
The Guardian independently corroborated Callamard’s account of the January 2020 episode.
The alleged threats were made, he said, at a “high-level” meeting between Geneva-based Saudi diplomats, visiting Saudi officials and UN officials in Geneva. During the exchange, they told Callamard, they criticized his work on Khashoggi’s murder, recording their anger at his investigation and its findings. Saudi officials also raised unsubstantiated allegations that he had received money from Qatar, a frequent refrain against critics of the Saudi government.
Callamard said one of the visiting senior Saudi officials said he had received phone calls from people who were willing to “take care of” her.
When UN officials voiced their alarm, other Saudis who were present tried to assure them that the comment should not be taken seriously. The Saudi group left the room but, Callamard was told, the visiting senior Saudi official stayed behind and repeated the alleged threat to the UN officials remaining in the room.
Specifically, the visiting Saudi official said he knew people who had offered to “take care of the problem if you don’t.”
“I was informed at that time and it was an occasion where the United Nations was really very strong on that issue. The people who were present, and also subsequently, made it clear to the Saudi delegation that this was absolutely inappropriate and that there was an expectation that this should not go any further, ”Callamard said.
While Callamard has discussed the threats she has faced in her work as a special rapporteur in the past, even by the Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte details of the alleged Saudi threat are being revealed in The Guardian for the first time.
The event will likely reinforce the opinion of human rights experts that the Saudi Arabian government has acted with impunity following Khashoggi’s assassination in 2018, including through arbitrary arrests of critics of the prince, as well as potential political rivals.
The Saudi government did not respond to emailed requests for comment, which The Guardian sent to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Saudi Arabian embassy in London and the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington.
“You know, those threats don’t work on me. Well, I don’t want to ask for more threats. But I have to do what I have to do. It didn’t stop me from acting in a way that I think is the right thing to do, ”Callamard said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism