On October 2nd, Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post journalist who has written critical analysis of the repressive nature of the Saudi regime, did not return from an appointment at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Recently, he was confirmed murdered by Saudi Arabian officials. This world event has spurred many discussions at The International Institute of Genocide and Human Rights Studies, and as a result we contacted our scholars for comment.

According to Prof. Herb Hirsch, an editor of Genocide Studies International, this “is clearly a violation of Article 7 Crimes against humanity as defined by the Elements of Crimes of the International Criminal Court.” Though Khashoggi’s killing is a human rights violation to begin with, the events that have followed have perpetuated further violations. His killing has become a significant world event which brings to light nuanced human rights violations, political expediency and issues of denial by governments who have conflicting interests surrounding the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

Turkey provided some information to put pressure on Saudi Arabia for the crime committed. But, they did not provide the audio and video evidence which they claim proves Khashoggi’s murder. In the runup to Erdogan’s speech on October 23, 2018, Erdogan promised to deliver the “naked truth,” but in the end, did not provide any new information. While the USA, Turkey and finally the Saudi Arabian crown prince acknowledge the crime, tangible evidence which is claimed to exist has not been turned over. Turkey’s refusal to share the key evidence in this case points to the ongoing pattern of denial surrounding this case. First, Saudi Arabia’s denial of Khashoggi’s disappearance, to denial of his murder (insistence on the crime being an accident), to claims of a meeting gone rogue, and the eventual denial of responsibility. Though the crime has been acknowledged as a “heinous crime” by Saudi Arabia crown prince, Turkey has refused to offer up the key facts that might explain who specifically ordered the killing. Combined with President Erdogan’s ongoing perpetuation of changing, unreliable information, his refusal to enable the truth is clearly for the sake of political expediency. Khashoggi’s death is being used by Turkey as leverage against the Saudi Arabian government for what appears to be geopolitical reasons, or perhaps, against the Kingdom’s main supporter, the US government.

Emeritus Professor Roger Smith, Chair of International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, explains the repercussions of perpetration of denial of this crime for political expediency. He states that this shows “that one can commit atrocities of various kinds – ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, genocide, unjust war (both in justification and in how it is conducted) – and get away with it.” Prof. Smith continues by explaining that the “there is the indifference of powerful states and there is the expediency that is grounded in various interests, especially commercial.” To explain how political expediency can be committed for the sake of commercial interests, he gives the example of President Trump. “Trump cites again and again the potential military contracts that would be lost if the US condemned the Saudis for the assassination of a critic,” Prof. Smith explains. But political expediency can serve other motivations as well. “Other examples of aiding and abetting governments in denial of genocide and other atrocities abound: the USA, Britain, and Israel about the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide. These include financial matters, but also diplomatic and security issues.” This leaves us with a crucial question about priority. Are human rights a global priority, or is expediency? Prof. Smith states that the “latter is not always easy to evaluate since there can be conflicting responsibilities, but even there it suggests avenues of entanglement that states can use to avoid being held to account.”

The killing of Jamal Khashoggi has resulted in a whirlwind of narratives and questionable explanations. Saudi Arabia in conjunction with Turkey has demonstrated an unwillingness to convey truth even when under the scrutiny of world-wide media coverage. Though the world community has been shocked by the bold, violent, and “pre-meditated” silencing of a peaceful critic by a powerful regime, this assertion for the sake of political expediency has not resulted in consequence, and the public still does not have answers. Although it is reported that Germany has frozen arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of Khashoggi’s killing, countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and others continue to sustain trade contracts.

In whatever way states manage to have impunity, the grounds are laid for the perpetrator to strike again, having avoided serious consequences for previous atrocities, and it also provides an example to would be perpetrators that they too can commit genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and get away with it. As Prof. Hirsch concludes, “while it is a crime and without doubt a clear violation, the problem is that international law is extremely difficult to enforce and most often is secondary to considerations of national interest, sovereignty or, in this case economic interest.  Economic and political self interest triumph, once again, over law and morality.” And in the closing of discussion with Prof. Smith: “Saudi Arabia may be the poster child for all the above.”