U.N. expert blasts Saudi prince over Khashoggi defense

GENEVA, Switzerland – A UN human rights expert who led a probe into the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi criticized Saudi Arabia's crown prince on Monday, September 30, for trying to create "distance" between himself and the execution.

Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, was reacting to an interview with Prince Mohammed bin Salman broadcast by US media on Sunday, September 29.

Speaking to CBS's 60 Minutes, Prince Mohammed denied ordering or having advanced warning of Khashoggi's killing on October 2 last year at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but said he "took full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia".

Callamard, whose independent probe found "credible evidence" linking the crown prince to the murder and attempted cover-up, dismissed that defense as "problematic".

"He is only taking corporate responsibility for the crime, which goes without saying," Callamard told AFP days ahead of the first anniversary of Khashoggi's death.

She said that the interview marked a concession by Prince Mohammed that "the killing of Mr. Khashoggi was a state killing".

But the UN expert condemned the prince, known by his initials MBS, for taking "no personal responsibility for the crime".

"He is creating huge distance between himself and the crime," by arguing that he cannot be liable for the conduct of all Saudi government employees, she said.

Callamard told AFP that "for the last 12 months, the Saudi state, their various representatives and (MBS) included have been lying to the international community regarding the nature of the crime. So now we are supposed to take his word that, yes, he has a corporate responsibility but he has no personal responsibility?"

"Not good enough," she said.

The CIA has also reportedly said the killing was likely ordered by Prince Mohammed.

But Saudi prosecutors have absolved the prince and said two dozen people implicated in the murder are in custody, with death penalties sought against 5 men.

Justice not 'easy'

Callamard has previously blamed UN "paralysis" for the failure to punish those who murdered Khashoggi – a US resident, Washington Post contributor and critic of the Saudi royal family.

She has called on Secretary General Antonio Guterres to independently launch a UN criminal probe.

The UN chief's office has said that is impossible without a member state request.

"I have not argued that this will be easy for (Guterres) procedurally or politically to do. What I am arguing is that if he wanted, and if he received sufficient formal or informal backing, he could find the legal backing to move forward," Callamard said.

Like all UN special rapporteurs, Callamard is an independent expert who does not speak for the world body but reports her findings to it. – Rappler.com