It has been one year since Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The 58-year-old journalist, who had become known for his criticism of the current Saudi regime, had gone to the consulate to obtain documents related to this upcoming marriage. Saudi agents dissolved his body in acid instead.
Seventy-nine journalists lost their lives in 2018 as a consequence of their work. Yet Khashoggi’s murder stood out, not only due to the sheer savagery of the act but also to its brazen execution – Saudi Arabian officials clearly believed they could murder a journalist on foreign soil, under the eyes of the entire world, and get away with it.
The sad fact is: So far, they were right. Despite an initial surge of global outrage, we are not substantially any closer to achieving justice for Khashoggi than we were one day after the news of his assassination made headlines around the globe. The Kingdom’s so-called “investigation” and trial of 11 alleged accomplices are a farce, deliberately hidden from international view so as to offer a useful veneer of justice to those gullible or greedy enough to wish Saudi Arabia’s reputational rehabilitation.
In spite of the painstaking enquiry led by U.N. Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who concluded that Khashoggi was the victim of a of “a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law”, Saudi Arabia has suffered few real consequences.
The U.S. Senate took the historic step last December of unanimously passing a resolution blaming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s killing, and more narrowly voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. But President Donald Trump has blocked all attempts by the U.S. Congress to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, unable to resist the Kingdom’s flattery. While Canada imposed sanctions on 17 individuals allegedly linked to the murder, another leading Saudi ally, the UK, has declined to do so, a failure rebuked by the UK Parliament’s own foreign affairs committee last month.
This week, the Washington Post reported that top global financial executives plan to return to Saudi Arabia’s annual “Davos in the Desert” conference in October, after many had sat out last year’s edition. Obviously those executives feel enough time has passed that they can be publicly seen again wheeling and dealing with a regime that has few equals in its pernicious assault on basic rights and freedoms.
Saudi Arabia should be an international pariah. And although there remains a strong current of voices fighting a return to business as usual, too many of its key allies are happy to remain wrapped in the kingdom’s embrace. For its part, instead of seeking justice, the country is busy shamelessly promoting itself as a tourist destination.
Every murder of a journalist is a tragedy and a crime. But the Khashoggi assassination is the most spectacular recent example we have of collective negligence to stand up for press freedom. It epitomizes the challenge we face in fighting impunity for the killings of journalists everywhere from Mexico to Pakistan.
One year later, there is no doubt about who killed Jamal Khashoggi. Unfortunately, equally not in doubt is – so far – the international community’s massive moral failure. Let’s hope that yet can be changed.