In the weeks following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Canadian officials were looking at options to pursue an international investigation of the matter.
But at least one determined that “most, if not all” members of the UN Security Council, which includes allies, appeared to have a “vested interest” in making sure no such probe took place — and Canada was not prepared to pursue unilateral action.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, while serving as foreign affairs minister, pushed heavily behind the scenes to co-ordinate an international response condemning the killing including successive statements from the G7 and phone calls with counterparts from the U.K., Germany, Morocco and other countries.
But inquiries testing support for an international criminal investigation appear to have proved fruitless, according to documents obtained by Global News under access-to-information laws.
“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 a Canadian political official at the embassy in Saudi Arabia 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 memo, titled “Whither an International Investigation into the Khashoggi Murder: Canada’s Role,” is dated Nov. 22, 2018, and is described in internal emails as summarizing some of the “considerations” raised during a meeting between Freeland’s office and senior Global Affairs Canada officials the previous day.
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.
It’s not clear whether the official provided a reason for their determination of a “vested interest” at play because the memo, along with the roughly 500 other pages of documents released to Global News, are heavily redacted.
Khashoggi, a journalist for the Washington Post and former Saudi Royal Court insider, was murdered by Saudi agents inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2, 2018, and subsequently dismembered.
His remains have never been found.
Saudi officials initially denied any involvement in the crime but later admitted Khashoggi had died inside the consulate as the result of what they called a fight.
But that explanation has been roundly condemned, including by Canadian officials, as lacking credibility.
Others have cast the shifting explanations as attempts to try to absolve Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir to the throne, of responsibility for the murder despite intelligence reports leaked to media over the last year that suggested he ordered the killing.
The note goes on to suggest that in the assessment of the Canadian official, “there are no indications of any kind that a groundswell of support is likely,” even though Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu and Freeland had committed during a Nov. 12 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 continues.
“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.
The fact that Canadian officials appear to have assessed opposition from members of the UN Security Council so early in the timeline of the killing and its aftermath has echoes in a report released just months ago by the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings.
Agnes Callamard released a scathing 100-page report this past summer outlining the results of her analysis into the murder, which was launched in January 2019 after it became clear requests — including those from some member states — for a formal UN-led investigation were going unanswered.
“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,” Callamard wrote in her report.
She concluded in the report that Khashoggi’s killing was an “execution” that was “overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials” and cited “credible evidence” that the Saudi Crown Prince was among them and should be investigated.
However, her inquiry was not a criminal investigation — a fact Callamard made clear in her report.
Instead, it could only determine “whether there are reasonable grounds suggesting criminal liability warranting further investigations.”
Callamard argued that standard had been met and pointed to six specific violations of international law that she said warranted either the UN Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the UN secretary-general to “demand a followup criminal investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.”
However, to date, there has been no such initiative and a briefing note prepared ahead of that Nov. 12, 2018 phone call between Cavasoglu and Freeland suggests Canada was not prepared to act alone in pursuing further measures against Saudi Arabia.
“Canada’s relations with KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] are precarious and so, like Turkey, Canada should encourage broader international engagement on the case rather than a standalone Canadian response, which may be counterproductive both for the resolution of this matter and Canada’s bilateral relationship with KSA,” that briefing note prepared for Freeland reads.
Another briefing note for the minister also refers to an earlier phone call on Oct. 20, 2018, between Freeland and Cavasoglu in which she “raised the G7 statement and offered Canadian material support (i.e. forensic experts) to the ongoing investigation.”
That joint investigation by Turkey and Saudi Arabia failed to address many unanswered questions, including the definitive location of Khashoggi’s remains.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has insisted he does not have the authority to launch an independent investigation through his office, a claim both Callamard and David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression have disputed.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.