A group of 11 human rights organizations led by Human Rights First called on the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to undertake additional action concerning the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and U.S. resident brutally murdered on October 2. The call came in a letter to Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX), which asked the two leaders to demand that the Trump Administration provide Congress with the determination of responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder required under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, as well as relevant information documenting how the administration came to its determination.
The groups further called on the committee leaders to consider holding hearings and to issue subpoenas if necessary to compel the administration to make public relevant information.
Joining Human Rights First in signing the letter were Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, the Open Society Justice Initiative, PEN America, the Project on Middle East Democracy, Reporters Without Borders, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.
“Chairman Engel and Ranking Member McCaul deserve credit for the steps they’ve taken to date to bring Jamal’s murderers to justice,” said Human Rights First’s Rob Berschinski. “That said, much more can, and should, be done. The Trump Administration has gone out of its way not only to flout the law, but to withhold basic information in what can correctly be characterized as a cover-up. The American people have a right to know that their government supports foreign actors who order the pre-meditated murder of journalists and dissidents. As the people’s elected representatives, Congress needs to step up where the Trump Administration has fallen down. We need hearings, subpoenas if necessary, and, ultimately, legislation.”
In today’s letter, the organizations stressed that Congress should not only act in the name of justice for Khashoggi, but for the rights of all who speak out against their government’s human rights violations:
Mr. Khashoggi’s premeditated killing violated many acceptable norms of human and state behavior. The murder’s authors clearly intended their crime to send a chilling message to Saudis at home and abroad: that those who peacefully criticize the government’s autocratic rule will never be safe, no matter where they flee…Saudi leaders apparently acted under the belief that they could issue this message without repercussion. For Mr. Khashoggi’s sake, and for the sake of human rights defenders the world over, Congress cannot allow this misguided belief to stand. Because the Trump Administration will not defend the rights of the persecuted to speak without fear of assassination, Congress must.
On February 8, the Trump Administration rejected a deadline to report to leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee on who the U.S. government believes is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. President Trump declined to make the determination, hiding behind a legalistic argument, even though press reporting has indicated that the CIA assesses with “high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was likely ultimately responsible.
To date, the Trump Administration has sanctioned 17 Saudi officials in relation to the Khashoggi murder, but has refused to confirm any connection between the crime and the Saudi crown prince.
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