UN investigator accuses Saudi Arabia of ‘bully-boy tactics’

Published March 27, 2021
“The Saudi Arabia threat against me was brazen, it took place in a high level diplomatic setting and it was made public, confirmed by the UN,” Agnes Callamard said. — AFP/File
“The Saudi Arabia threat against me was brazen, it took place in a high level diplomatic setting and it was made public, confirmed by the UN,” Agnes Callamard said. — AFP/File

GENEVA: A UN rights expert on Friday accused Saudi Arabia of bullying after a top official allegedly threatened her life following her probe into journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 murder.

“The Saudi Arabia threat against me was brazen, it took place in a high level diplomatic setting and it was made public, confirmed by the UN,” Agnes Callamard said in a tweet.

Such “bully-boy tactics should not find shelter anywhere,” she insisted. “They do not belong at the UN, but regrettably, often find accommodation there.”

At a meeting with UN officials in Geneva in January 2020, a senior Saudi official threatened twice to have Callamard “taken care of” if she was not restrained by the United Nations, The Guardian newspaper reported this week.

Without naming the Saudi official, Callamard — the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions — told the British daily that the comment was perceived by her Geneva-based colleagues as a “death threat”.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN rights office, confirmed to AFP that “the details in The Guardian story about the threat aimed at Agnes Callamard are accurate”.

The UN body had informed Callamard about the threat, he added. “The Secretary General’s message is very simple and very clear, that any and all such threats are unacceptable,” a spokesperson for the UN chief in New York told reporters Thursday.

Awwad Alawwad, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, meanwhile said Thursday that Callamard and UN officials believed he made the threat, something he rejected “in the strongest terms". “While I cannot recall the exact conversations, I never would have desired or threatened any harm upon a UN-appointed individual, or anyone for that matter,” he said on Twitter.

“I am disheartened that anything I have said could be interpreted as a threat.”

‘Intimidation, violence’

The alleged threat against Callamard followed her investigation of the gruesome murder of Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic who wrote for The Washington Post newspaper, was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The killing by Saudi agents tarnished the reputation of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and plunged the kingdom into its biggest diplomatic crisis in years.

Callamard’s report, published in June 2019, concluded that there was “credible evidence” that top Saudi officials, including Prince Mohammed, were liable for the killing.

In her string of tweets Friday, Callamard meanwhile stressed that the threat against her was not unique.

“Far greater daily intimidation and violence stalk all those on the front lines of human rights advocacy,” she said.

She called for UN member states and the UN chief Antonio Guterres to “affirm that it is the duty of diplomats, UN staff and UN Human Rights experts to serve without fear or favour.” “States must understand that behaving as thugs in New York and Geneva is no more acceptable there than in other countries’ capitals, or in their own home towns,” she said.

“Such a demand is essential as we are confronting a world of heightened tensions reminiscent of the Cold War era.”

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2021

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