Are Khashoggi’s Alleged Murderers Immune From Prosecution?
On Oct. 22, the Government of Saudi Arabia admitted that the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. While Saudi Arabia stopped short of admitting the government’s involvement in the murder, the recognition allows for the prosecution of those directly involved in the crime to be tried as murder suspects.
However, bringing the suspects to justice will not be easy. Khashoggi was murdered in a Saudi consulate and the suspected murderers are Saudi officials. Despite the fact that the crime was committed in Turkey, it is possible that Turkish authorities may not have the right to prosecute the criminals. More importantly, the suspects are currently in Saudi Arabia and cannot be tried in Turkey unless the former agrees to their extradition.
If the suspects remain in Saudi Arabia, it is unclear whether their trial will be fair or a show-trial to cover up the monarchy’s own alleged involvement in the murder. Equally uncertain is whether, in the future, crimes committed by people in locations with diplomatic immunity will be punished.
Protocols pertaining to diplomatic immunity have been very valuable throughout history, and have therefore been accorded a great deal of respect. In the early 13th century, the ascending Mongol Empire expected foreign powers to protect Mongol diplomats from arbitrary violence, going so far as to raze entire kingdoms when they killed a Mongol envoy. In the 17th century, European diplomats realized they needed immunity to do their jobs properly; if countries wanted to maintain dialogue even during war, then they had to guarantee that they would not harm each other’s diplomats. Therefore, rules were developed to protect diplomats from arbitrary violence in the countries to which they were assigned.
Since the 17th century, diplomatic immunity protocols have been further developed and formalized, thereby allowing countries to continue communicating with one another even during times of tension. But what happens when a diplomat commits a crime on foreign soil, or diplomatic grounds are used to commit serious offences like murder?
As regards the Khashoggi saga, it appears that the 18 suspects accused of killing the journalistmay not have absolute diplomatic immunity. Additionally, according to the Vienna conventions, a set of rules governing diplomatic immunity, an embassy or consulate may not be used to commit heinous crimes like murder.
Of bigger concern is the fact that Turkey has to request permission from Saudi Arabia for extradition. Therefore, Turkey may not be able to prosecute the suspects and it is unclear how they will be dealt with in Saudi Arabia.