The Saudi official alleged to have issued death threats against UN investigator Agnès Callamard has been named as the Kingdom’s very own human rights chief Awwad Al-Awwad. The threats are said to have been made while Callamard was investigating the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Al-Awwad is a former aide to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. He was named by someone familiar with the issue as having twice threatened to “take care of” Callamard at a January 2020 meeting with senior human rights officials in Geneva. The former Minister of Culture and Information has denied the allegations and raised the possibility that the story has been “concocted” in order to distract people from “the important work we are doing to advance human rights in Saudi Arabia”.
The death threat claim was reported on Tuesday by the Guardian. The outgoing special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings said that a UN colleague alerted her in January 2020 to what had allegedly been said in a meeting with other senior UN officials in Geneva if she was not reined in by the UN.
Asked how the comment was perceived by her Geneva-based colleagues, Callamard replied: “A death threat. That was how it was understood.” As well as speculation over the identity of the Saudi official, questions were also asked about why the UN did not respond to such a serious allegation.
“We confirm that the details in the Guardian story about the threat aimed at Agnès Callamard are accurate,” a UN spokesman told Reuters this week. The UN human rights office had told Callamard about the threat as well as UN security and authorities, added Rupert Colville.
Callamard issued a report in 2019 about Khashoggi’s murder. She concluded that there was “credible evidence” that Bin Salman and senior Saudi officials were responsible for killing the journalist, who lived in exile in America.
US intelligence had also reached a similar conclusion, but details of the report were suppressed by the Trump administration. President Joe Biden, however, authorised the release of the report last month. It concluded that the Saudi crown prince had approved the brutal murder of Khashoggi.
Callamard also implicated Bin Salman in a UN investigation into the phone hacking of Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos. It concluded that that his phone had been hacked with a tainted video sent from a WhatsApp account belonging to the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.