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Rights activists hit out at Macron for hosting Saudi crown prince

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) receives French President Emmanuel Macron in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on December 4, 2021. (File photo by Reuters)

Human rights activists have blasted French President Emmanuel Macron for hosting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), under whose rule dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul almost four years ago.

Agnès Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said the de facto Saudi ruler’s visit to France and US President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia “do not change the fact that [Prince Mohammed] is anything other than a killer.”

She described the 36-year-old crown prince as a man who “does not tolerate dissent.”

Callamard, who at the time of the killing was the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and who led its independent investigation, told AFP that she was “profoundly troubled by the visit, because of what it means for our world and what it means for Jamal [Khashoggi] and people like him.”

The crown prince’s reception by world leaders was “all the more shocking given many of them at the time expressed disgust and a commitment not to bring him back into the international community,” she added, denouncing the “double standards” and “values … being obliterated in the face of concern about the rising price of oil.”

The head of Human Rights Watch in France, Bénédicte Jeannerod, tweeted that bin Salman could “apparently count on Emmanuel Macron to rehabilitate him on the international stage despite the atrocious murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the pitiless repression of all criticism by the Saudi authorities, and war crimes in Yemen.”

Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, told AFP she was “scandalized and outraged” that Macron was receiving “with all the honors the executioner of my fiancé.”

“All the international investigations carried out up to this point … recognize [Prince Mohammed’s] responsibility in the assassination,” she noted.

Meanwhile, the US-based Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), which Khashoggi founded in 2018, and the Swiss campaign group Trial International, on Thursday, filed a joint formal complaint in Paris against MBS for “complicity in torture” and “enforced disappearance.”

The initiative, supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative, was filed under universal jurisdiction, which allows a state to try crimes against humanity, war crimes, and acts of torture committed outside its territory.

The independent human rights organizations argued that as crown prince, MBS does not benefit from diplomatic immunity.

“As a party to the conventions against torture and the enforced disappearances, France is obliged to investigate a suspect like Bin Salman if he is on French territory,” Dawn’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, was quoted as saying by the French-language Le Monde daily newspaper.

Abdullah Alaoudh, Dawn’s director for the Persian Gulf region, told France Info radio network that the Saudi crown prince’s visit to France was “shameful.”

“We think he is trying to whitewash his crimes … He is an unstable dictator and walking hand in hand with him is dishonorable,” he asserted.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has tried to forestall criticisms that the country was undermining its public commitments to defend human rights.

“It obviously does not cast doubt on our principles. It does not cast doubt on our commitment to human rights,” she claimed during a trip to eastern France.

Prince Mohammad’s visit on Thursday to Paris came two weeks after he held talks in Saudi Arabia with Biden. MBS made a stop in Greece before heading to the French capital.

Macron, who last December became the first Western leader to visit Saudi Arabia since the Khashoggi murder, has dismissed criticism of his efforts to engage the crown prince.

Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi “hit squad” at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, was a vocal critic of Mohammed bin Salman and his rule as the de-facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh initially issued conflicting stories about Khashoggi’s disappearance but eventually claimed that the Washington Post columnist had been killed in a “rogue” operation.

The killing has affected Riyadh’s relations with a number of countries, but those relations are being restored.

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