In response to the release of a U.S. congressional report identifying Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as having ordered the operation against journalist Jamal Khashoggi, rights groups call on the Biden administration to impose sanctions on the prince, and suspend arms sales.
This statement was originally published on pen.org on 26 February 2021.
U.S. government releases report on who was responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi
PEN America joined the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Human Rights First, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in issuing the following joint statement in response to the U.S. government release of a declassified version of the congressionally mandated report on who was responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi.
“DNI Avril Haines said in her confirmation hearing that the Biden administration would ‘follow the law’ and release this report – the administration has rightly kept its word,” said PEN America’s Thomas O. Melia. “This is an essential starting point in terms of holding accountable those responsible for these heinous crimes, even amidst the United States’ fraught relationship with Saudi Arabia. We welcome today’s announcement of new sanctions and sanction mechanisms and hope that those pave the way toward fuller accountability for all those responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s brutal murder. We call on the executive and legislative branches to join forces in demanding the release of all Saudi political prisoners from confinement and travel restrictions.”
As expected, the report explicitly identifies Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as ordering the operation against Khashoggi and identified 21 other Saudi officials involved in the murder. Of these, 17 officials were sanctioned by the U.S. government under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program in November 2018 for their role in the killing.
The organizations were also encouraged by the Biden administration’s announcement that it has designated Major General Ahmad Hassan Mohammed Al Asiri and the Rapid Intervention Force under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program for their involvement in the murder. Additionally, the organizations welcome the creation of a “Khashoggi Ban” to allow the United States to restrict visas for those who, on behalf of a foreign government, target and harass journalists, dissidents, and activists, including its initial application to 76 Saudis who previously have been involved in threatening dissidents.
After more than two years of the previous U.S. administration protecting the Saudi government and royal family from scrutiny and accountability, the public release of this report is an important step in pursuit of justice and accountability for this heinous murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
“The release of this report signals the importance that the Biden administration places on the rule of law,” said POMED’s Seth Binder. “It is also an essential move toward holding those responsible for this horrific crime to account, demonstrating that the United States will not allow murderers to escape with impunity. The United States and the international community must now use the report to continue pushing for justice for Jamal Khashoggi and for reforms inside Saudi Arabia to ensure this never happens again.”
“Today, the United States and international community took a small but necessary step toward real accountability for a shocking crime,” said Human Rights First’s Amanda Strayer. “Now that the truth is plain for all to see, it’s incumbent upon the Biden administration, Congress, and the international community to hold those named in the report accountable for this murder and their continued pattern of gross human rights violations.”
“Today’s report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi confirms that the U.S. government knew all along Saudi officials at the highest levels were involved,” said CPJ’s Michael De Dora. “With this fact now public record, the Biden administration must move swiftly to hold accountable every Saudi official named in this report through targeted sanctions and other diplomatic measures. The message should be made loud and clear: the U.S. will not allow governments to get away with the murders of journalists.”
In response to the DNI’s report, POMED, Human Rights First, PEN America, and CPJ call on the Biden administration and Congress to take the following actions:
- Having identified the crown prince as responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Biden administration should immediately impose sanctions and other punitive measures on him and encourage other governments to follow suit. No individual should be above the law. It should refuse to engage with high-ranking senior officials, including the crown prince, implicated in this crime until the Saudi government allows for a credible international criminal investigation into the murder.
- The administration should also suspend arms sales and the licensing of technologies used by the Saudi government to conduct domestic and extraterritorial persecution, censorship, and intimidation, including surveillance equipment, until the Saudi government has demonstrated progress on human rights beginning with the unconditional release of the journalists, activists, human rights defenders, women’s rights advocates, and U.S. citizens and their families currently detained and under travel ban inside the kingdom.
- Congress should continue to press the administration to stand by its commitment to seek accountability for the murder of Khashoggi and speak out against Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. It should also pass the Jamal Khashoggi Press Freedom Accountability Act, introduced by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), which would prohibit U.S. foreign assistance to governments that commit human rights violations against journalists and sanction their leaders. Additionally, Congress should pass the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act introduced last year by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) in order to help deter further harassment and violence against activists and dissidents by the Saudi government.
- The United States and other countries around the world should support a United Nations mechanism to independently investigate targeted assassinations of journalists, human rights activists, and dissidents. Part of ensuring accountability for Khashoggi is establishing international mechanisms that signal to governments that there will be serious consequences if they decide to take actions similar to the Saudi government.
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a horrendous crime that opened the eyes of the world to the vicious capabilities of the Saudi government led by Mohammed bin Salman. The U.S. government must take the necessary next steps to secure justice for Khashoggi, hold the Saudi government accountable, and ensure that other would-be human rights abusers know there will be no more impunity for attacks on journalists and press freedom.
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.
For additional comment, contact Washington Director Thomas O. Melia at [email protected], (202) 631-9475.
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to examining how genuine democracies can develop in the Middle East and how the United States can best support that process. Through research, advocacy, and civil society partnerships we work to strengthen the constituency for U.S. policies that peacefully support democratic reform in the Middle East.
To speak with Binder or others at the Project on Middle East Democracy, please contact April Brady, [email protected], (608) 772-0920.
About the Committee to Protect Journalists
The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. CPJ defends the right of journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal.
About Human Rights First
Human Rights First is an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals. For 40 years the organization has worked to press the U.S. government and private companies to respect human rights and the rule of law. When they fail, Human Rights First steps in to demand reform, accountability and justice. Human Rights First is based in New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles.
To speak with Strayer or others at Human Rights First, please contact Meredith MacKenzie, [email protected], (202) 412-4270.