American Policy: Khashoggi’s assassination, human rights, and international law

The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, poses grave challenges for Donald Trump and U.S. foreign policy.

We haven’t heard much from Trump or his administration about International Law.  But in the Khashoggi case, its relevance and importance cannot be ignored.

What is International Law?  Why do we have it?

In the present case, the most fundamental human right, the right to life, of a Saudi citizen has been taken by the Saudi government without a hint of due process and the rule of law.

International human rights are based on treaties and customary international law and, as such, form an integral part of international law.

The right to life of Jamal Khashoggi has been violated, according to the CIA, at the command of the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

Does this matter?

Does this matter to the U.S. president, who instead of denoucing the atrocity appears to be doing all he can to help Saudi Arabia cover up the truth, particularly the truth that the crown prince ordered the assassination?

To join the Saudi coverup makes the U.S. president an accomplice to the coverup.

More importantly, it makes the U.S. sound like the international law provisions which prohibit a country from coming into another country and killing one of its citizens are not relevant to the Khashoggi case.

Should we care?

If a country can send its agents into another country to kill one of its citizens, given the provisions of international law, and there is no strong reaction when this occurs, then international law itself becomes irrelevant.  The international law right is the right to life of the individual human being, not just a Saudi citizen.

So, if international law is irrelevant, then there is no reason a state cannot send its agents into the territory of a foreign state to assassinate any individual. One can imagine that a number of authoritarian states would welcome such a state of affairs, finding it much easier to deal with their critics, who they may view of “enemies of the state”.

Is there a problem here?

If states may send their agents into another state to kill anyone without strong reaction from other states, i.e., when international law becomes irrelevant, why can’t they send large numbers of their agents–even armies–into the territory of another state to put down their critics or those who oppose their policies?

Mr. Trump should think about and seek advice on these questions before he weighs in to join the Saudi coverup of the Khashoggi assassination and of the identities of those responsible for ordering it.

Trump’s joining the Saudi coverup of the Khashoggi assassination is a logical consequence of his jettisoning of the human rights pillar of U. S. foreign policy.

The logic extends directly from Trump’s praise  of Rodrigo Duterte’s program of extrajudicial execution of drug dealers in the Phillippines to joining the coverup of the Khashoggi assassination by the Saudis.

What difference does one human life make?

That is a question every American voter should ask, and answer, before the 2020 elections.



About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.