A United Nations investigator who authored a report which found Saudi Arabia responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has said the kingdom should not be allowed to host the next G20 summit.
The meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from the world’s 20 largest economies is set to take place in Saudi capital Riyadh in November next year.
UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard (pictured), who described the murder of the Washington Post columnist and Saudi national as an “extrajudicial killing”, has said the summit should be held elsewhere.
But the UK Government has backed the decision to host the summit in Saudi Arabia, while saying it remains committed to “promoting media freedom and protecting journalists”.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Our concerns about freedom of expression are well known by the Saudi authorities and we have been clear that anyone found responsible [for Khashoggi’s murder] must be held fully accountable.
“As one of the G20 grouping of the world’s largest industrialised and emerging economies, it is right that Saudi Arabia have been given the opportunity to host the summit.”
Callamard authored a 101-page report into Khashoggi’s murder, published last month, which found there was “credible evidence, warranting further investigation” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and senior officials may be liable for the murder.
The report also pushed for Bin Salman to face further investigation over the murder, but added that “no conclusion is made as to guilt”.
Saudi Arabia hit back at the report, saying it was based on “prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas”.
The Middle Eastern kingdom has long denied that Bin Salman had any involvement in the killing of Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2 October last year.
After first denying the journalist had been killed, the kingdom said his death was the result of a “rogue operation” and has since charged 11 suspects with the murder, with five facing the death penalty.
Speaking at an event hosted by US research group Brookings Institution in Washington yesterday, Callamard said: “I realise that next year the G20 will be taking place in Saudi Arabia.
“Political accountability for Mr Khashoggi will mean that it doesn’t happen or it’s moved elsewhere or something being done to ensure the political system in the US and in other countries does not become complicit of that international crime and of the narrative that Saudi Arabia is trying to sell… that it has taken the right steps to respond to it.”
In an opening address, Callamard added that she did not want justice for Khashoggi, whose body has never been recovered, to be “held hostage of the vagaries of legal processes in Saudi Arabia”.
She added: “I think it is important to identify other options for judicial accountability and prosecution but as well for different forms of accountability: political, diplomatic, strategic, cultural.”
In a statement to Press Gazette, press freedom group Reporters without Borders UK bureau director Rebecca Vincent said it was “extremely disappointing to see Saudi Arabia warmly welcomed into the G20 presidency with so little attention paid to its dire press freedom record”.
She added: “This is yet another example of a lack of serious political consequences for Saudi Arabia in the wake of the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi and despite the fact that 30 journalists remain unjustly jailed in the country.
“We call again for all G20 member states to urge Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release these 30 journalists, and to hold Saudi Arabia to account for its human rights obligations.”
The BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson has also condemned the decision. He tweeted: “So it’s official: Mohammed bin Salman has got away with it. A Saudi team can stage the gruesome murder of a journalist, allegedly with MbS’s foreknowledge, and the world’s leading countries will still choose him as their next host.”
Senior Labour MP David Lammy added: “Mohammed bin Salman should be under investigation over ‘credible evidence’ linking him to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, not honoured as host of the G20.
“It’s time for the international community to wake up and defend the liberal and social values we fought so hard for.”
The US forced sanctions on 17 Saudi officials last year over their suspected involvement in the killing of Khashoggi, but US President Donald Trump has not committed to allow the FBI to investigate the killing of Khashoggi, despite recommendations in the UN report last month.
Speaking to NBC News programme Meet the Press in June, Trump said the murder had already been “heavily investigated” when asked if he would allow the FBI to probe the case.
Picture: AP Photo/Hasan Jamali/File