Canada pushed directly with the United Nations human rights chief for an investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia.
One official, speaking on background, confirmed to Global News that Canada asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as others, to launch an investigation into the killing, which shocked the international community but has been met with apparent indifference among countries on some of the UN’s most powerful bodies.
“Canada raised the possibility of a UN-led investigation in discussions with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN officials,” the official said.
But that request appears to have been rebuffed, and it’s not clear why.
Part of the “core work” described on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is conducting commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions in cases of suspected human rights violations.
The UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings noted six specific violations of international law that she believes are at play in what she described as the “execution” of Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey last fall.
Global News has reached out to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights requesting comment. This copy will be updated with any received response.
As Global News reported exclusively on Wednesday, Canadian officials tried to organize support for an international investigation into the murder late last year.
But those efforts proved fruitless, with one Canadian official from the embassy in Saudi Arabia pointing the finger at “most, if not all” members of the Security Council, whom the individual accused of having a “vested interest” in blocking such a probe.
“No other states have yet pressed for an international investigation. Not bilaterally, not in the G7, and not at the UN. None of the UNSC members have an interest in supporting an international investigation,” reads a memo prepared by that Canadian political official for three director-level Global Affairs Canada officials with responsibility in the Middle East.
“In fact, most, if not all, would have a vested interest in ensuring it does not take place.”
The permanent members of the UN Security Council — those who have veto power over proposals before it — are China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.
The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings raised similar concerns in a June 2019 report from an independent assessment, weighing whether the case warranted a followup criminal investigation, which she made clear it did.
In it, Agnes Callamard said the lack of action from the UN was not due to a lack of urging.
“Despite requests from special procedures, non-governmental organizations, scholars and some member states for an international, UN-led investigation, by the end of 2018, there was no sign from the international system of an official demand for such an investigation nor any signal that an international criminal investigation, leading to criminal proceedings as appropriate, would be initiated,” she wrote.
Her report urged three avenues for potential investigations: through the Security Council, where individual permanent members have veto power; through proceedings launched by the secretary general; or through the Human Rights Council, where members do not hold veto power.
Specifically, she called on countries, including Canada, to speak up and push for accountability.
Global News has confirmed that Canada’s request for an investigation came prior to the Callamard report.
The official who spoke with Global News says Canada is now weighing its options for how to continue pushing for the recommendations in that report.
“Canada is considering the options presented in the report of the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, including those to reinforce the capacities of the UN to respond to such egregious human rights violations,” said the official.
Global News reached out to a spokesperson for the minister of foreign affairs, who referred the question to Global Affairs Canada.
A spokesperson for the department said Canada condemned the killing.
“We continue to call for a thorough investigation and a full and rigorous accounting of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Khashoggi’s death,” said Barbara Harvey in an email.
“Those responsible for the killing must be held to account.”
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was serving as foreign affairs minister at the time, had committed during a Nov. 12, 2018, phone call to brainstorming potential avenues for an international investigation into the killing.
“FM Cavusoglu said he welcomed the involvement of third countries, and that Turkey was ready ‘to co-operate fully with any international courts or the UN in getting to full accountability and transparency,’” the note from the Canadian official stated.
“MINA and he committed to have their respective teams look into which might be the best tribunal or body for this purpose, and to confer on the results of their respective enquiries.”
MINA is the acronym used for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
However, Canada was not prepared to go it alone unless other countries were also willing to pursue action against Saudi Arabia for the murder.