Editor’s Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.
UN Rapporteur Calls Out Saudi Prince for Role in Khashoggi’s Murder
Nearly one year to the day since Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel, was killed, a top UN investigator slammed Saudi Arabia’s crown prince for trying to evade blame for the murder. Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said Mohammad bin Salman implicitly admitted that the brutal murder of Khashoggi was a state killing in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes this week. She also accused bin Salman of trying to launch a media campaign to obfuscate his role in Khashoggi’s murder.
Earlier this week, bin Salman told 60 Minutes that while he took “full responsibility” for Khashoggi’s murder as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, he did not order the killing nor did he know it was going to happen because it was impossible for him to know “what three million people working for the Saudi government do daily.” In an interview with Reuters, Callamard said that she interpreted bin Salman’s admission as “recognizing implicitly at least that the killing was a state killing” and that “[to]o the extent the killing occurred under his watch, he represents the state, he is indeed quasi head of state.”
Callamard also called out the Crown Prince for trying to use his claim of Saudi Arabia’s state responsibility to evade allegations regarding his personal involvement with Khashoggi’s murder. “He is creating a distance between himself, he is exonerating himself from direct criminal responsibility in the killing,” she said. “He is creating layers, and layers and layers of actors and institutions which are protecting him from his direct accountability for the killing.”
In June of this year, Callamard released a report finding there was “sufficient credible evidence” than bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. “[E]very expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched,” the report noted. As further support, it also pointed out that “destruction of evidence” following the murder “could not have taken place without the Crown Prince’s awareness.”
Callamard has denounced the international sanctions against Saudi Arabia as insufficient because they “fail to correspond to the gravity of the crime or to the fact that the State of Saudi Arabia is ultimately responsible for the violation of Mr. Khashoggi’s right to life.” Khashoggi was murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. His body was found dismembered.
UN Sounds the Alarm Over Latest Bout of Iraqi Violence
A new wave of protests in Iraq that resulted in 132 injuries and five deaths on Wednesday alone prompted a formal response from the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert released a statement calling for an end to the bloodshed, expressing “grave concern over the violence that accompanied some of the demonstrations in Baghdad and other governorates.”
The protests began on Tuesday as an angry response to the country’s problems with unemployment, lack of sufficient public services, including water and power, and allegations of corruption. The domestic frustrations could ultimately topple Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, according to Reuters. In total, at least seven people have been killed and some 200 have been wounded in two days of tumultuous protest. Local health sources told Reuters that two protesters were shot dead by police in the southern city of Nassiriya. However, the government asserts that protesters have caused some of the bloodshed, as well.
Mahdi chaired an emergency national security council meeting on Wednesday. The council publicly stated that it “affirms the right to protest, freedom of expression, and the protesters’ legitimate demands, but at the same time condemns the acts of vandalism that accompanied the protests.” Madhi also announced a new plan to instruct the Oil Industry and other government agencies to include a 50% quota of local workers in future deals with foreign companies.
In her statement, Hennis-Plasschaert tried to strike a balance between imploring the government to moderate its use of force while recognizing the government’s need to offer protection against protests that turned belligerent. The official statement “urge[d] the authorities to exercise restraint in their handling of the protests to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters while upholding law and order and protecting the people, public and private property.” She also went out of her way to reaffirm that “Every individual has the right to speak freely, in keeping with the law.”
UN Calls for End to Bloody Clashes in Haiti as Peacekeeping Mission Prepares to Shutdown
In Haiti, bloody protests against President Jovenel Moïse escalated this week, with opposition leadership encouraging citizens to take to the streets and police reportedly responding with gunfire and tear gas. The spokesperson for the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (known by its acronym MINUJUSTH) expressed concern on Monday over the“reports of violence and arson” but did not specifically lay blame with a single party, calling on everyone to “refrain from the use of violence.” The internal conflict erupted just a couple of weeks before UN Peacekeepers are scheduled to depart from Haiti after a 15-year-mission.
With high anger over double-digit inflation, food and fuel shortages, and corruption allegations against public officials, protesters have called for Moïse to resign. Thousands of people throughout the country joined the demonstrations, with government offices, schools, and other buildings closing down. Reuters reported on Monday that for a second time in a week, a journalist was shot by Haitian authorities. The Associated Press reported scenes of police intermittently throwing tear gas into crowds of protesters, with one cannister landing in a civilian home and causing the people within it to flee. A man was seen running with a cloth over his face, screaming “Is this democracy?! We have the right to protest.”
According to UN News, several people had already died in clashes with police in the last few weeks, but there was an uptick in violence when opposition leadership called for a day of nationwide resistance. While Moïse has not made many public appearances since the clashes began, his Minister of Foreign Affairs told the UN General Assembly this past weekend that “Haiti will not be able to recover without substantial, sustained, sustainable, coherent, well-coordinated and effective support from the international community.”
However, October 15 will mark the official closure of UN peacekeeping operations in Haiti, removing a significant source of support. In April, the Security Council voted to close the peacekeeping mission after 15 years of service, though it also provided for a new program to aid the Haitian government. In June, the Security Council approved the BINUH (Bureau Intégré des Nations Unies en Haïti) to serve as an “integrated office” that will promote good governance through election planning, police training, and responding to gang violence, among other things.
Still, some experts worry that Haiti is facing a new and unprecedented phase of violence. “There’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety . . . that things are going in a direction in Haiti that we haven’t seen in a while,” Duke University professor Laurent Dubois told the Associated Press. “It seems like we’re going into some kind of new phase in Haitian history, but what it holds will be difficult to predict.”
Top UN Refugee Agency Warns Greece Of Dangerous Asylum-Seeker Overcrowding
On Tuesday, UNHCR issued a major warning to Greece about overcrowding and deteriorating conditions at its refugee reception centers on the Greek Aegean islands. September saw the highest monthly arrival of asylum seekers with 10,258 new people, mostly from Afghanistan and Syria. As a result, the UN Refugee Agency is urging Greece to focus on expediting transfers of more than 5,0000 asylum-seekers and calling on other European countries to absorb some of the refugees.
Reception centers are now dangerously saturated, with the center on Samos at eight times capacity, the center on Lesvos at five times capacity, and the center on Kos at more than four times its capacity. Conditions also appear to be worsening. According to UNHCR, at an informal settlement near the Lesvos center, 100 people share a single toilet, and on Sunday, a fire broke out at the Lesvos center, killing one woman. There are also some 4,400 unaccompanied children, of whom only one in four is in a shelter that is age appropriate. UNHCR spokesperson Liz Throssell said, “Keeping people on the islands in these inadequate and insecure conditions is inhumane and must come to an end.”
General Assembly Closes Annual Debate With Call to Improve Gender Equity at the UN
Monday marked the end of general debate at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, president of the 74th General Assembly, brought the high-level debate to an official close with praise for the multilateral discussions that had taken place, but also hopes for improving gender equity in the future.
Muhammad-Bande pointed out that only sixteen of the national statements had been given by women and called for greater female participation. “When we speak of a representative United Nations, this is clearly not what we mean,” Muhammed-Bande said. “By a representative UN we mean a body that allows every human being to realize his or her fullest potential, unhindered by his or her gender or by history of advantage.” He added, “gender equality in the contemporary world is still a work in progress. We therefore need to double our efforts to speed up the process of including women, not only in decision-making structures but also in the list of speakers billed to address this high-level forum.”
IMAGE: President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande speaks during General debate of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)