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Jamal Khashoggi: United Nations Report

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 27 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Investigation into the unlawful death of Mr Jamal Khashoggi, published on 19 June; and whether, in the light of that report, they will call on the United Nations to institute a full, high-level judicial inquiry into such crimes.

My Lords, as the Foreign Secretary has said, the Government condemned Jamal Khashoggi’s killing in the strongest possible terms. The United Kingdom reiterated that at the United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday, and we thank the special rapporteur for her work on the report. The Government remain clear that anyone found responsible following a credible and transparent judicial process must be held to account. We are concerned about reported restrictions regarding the investigative process. We continue to work with our partners on how we can act collaboratively.

My Lords, I was the legal adviser to the rapporteur and travelled with her to Turkey with a forensic pathologist and a very senior retired police officer. We met senior ministers—the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Justice—the chief prosecutor, the investigators and the head of intelligence. We were allowed to listen to the tape of the killing of Mr Khashoggi. We heard intercept telephone calls on tape showing that this was not some rogue operation but was planned by people who were agents of the Saudi state.

The case raises serious issues about the rule of law, for which Britain is recognised around the world. I am asking whether it is enough for us to await the outcome of a trial in Saudi Arabia. Should we not be pressing the UN Secretary-General to initiate a formal judicial inquiry? A prima facie case has been well established. The body is still missing and we know nothing about that. I met Mr Khashoggi’s fiancée last week and she is still unresolved about this whole matter. We have questions to ask about the nature of the trial and whether it conforms to due process.

Is the Foreign Office taking the stand that it should be about the rule of law and demanding that some kind of formal inquiry be set up at a judicial level by the UN and, if not, that there should be a coming together of nations around the world that care about the rule of law, given the fact that we have seen this happening in Salisbury at the hands of Russia, in North Korea and so on? We really have to assert the importance of due process.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I pay tribute to her role in the special rapporteur’s investigation. She is right that this country is associated with the robustness of the rule of law and with a widely —indeed, globally—acknowledged judiciary. However, the important point here is that, whatever the noble Baroness may feel about the shortcomings of the process, there is a legal process in Saudi Arabia, and it is the United Kingdom’s judgment that it is correct to let that process run its course. We are observing the trial along with our international partners. It is important to let that process conclude. As I said earlier, we continue to work with our global partners, not least with our friends at the United Nations, and we will consider how we can act collaboratively. The noble Baroness is correct that the report raises a range of serious issues but there is a process that has to be respected and allowed to run its course.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has clearly done a very good job in this investigation along with her two colleagues, as one would expect. Can we be assured, in view of the established close links that we in this country have with Riyadh, that we are pressing the Saudi authorities to be as open, frank and co-operative as possible in any further judicial inquiry, not least in their own interests?

I thank my noble friend. As has been observed before in this Chamber, we have a balanced relationship with Saudi Arabia that allows us to be frank and open with it about our concerns and issues it needs to address. As I said to the noble Baroness, it is important that we respect the trial process taking place in Saudi Arabia, but nothing in our relationship with Saudi Arabia inhibits or stifles us in expressing profound concerns when we have them.

My Lords, by any measure Saudi Arabia is one of the most intolerant countries in the world. We have just heard about the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. There are summary beheadings, and public floggings of women who are simply trying to assert their rights, and this goes on and on. There is absolutely no freedom of religion or belief. Does our country not taint itself by cosying up to Saudi Arabia simply because of the sale of arms and oil?

The noble Lord rightly identifies a series of profound concerns, which we all share. He will be aware that Saudi Arabia remains a Foreign & Commonwealth Office human rights priority country, not least because of the use of the death penalty, women’s rights issues, and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and religion or belief. We regularly raise these human rights concerns with the Saudi Arabian authorities through a range of ministerial and diplomatic channels of communication, including our ambassador.

My Lords, the Minister has indicated the problems with dealing with Saudi, yet the Foreign Office frequently talks about Saudi as being an ally, and we have arms sales to Saudi. The special rapporteur suggested that all member states should consider imposing an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, use or servicing of privately developed surveillance tools to Saudi and other states until a human rights–compliant safeguards regime is in place. Can the Minister reassure us that the United Kingdom is not selling any such surveillance tools to Saudi? If she cannot answer now, will she write to me?

This issue has been covered extensively in this Chamber in the course of this week, not least in relation to arms sales and the recent judicial review finding. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the Government are disappointed by the court’s conclusion and are appealing the decision. What I can say to her is that, in the meantime, we are not granting any further licences for Saudi Arabia or coalition partners.