Human rights campaigners have hit out at Emmanuel Macron’s decision to host Mohammed bin Salman for talks in Paris during the Saudi crown prince’s first visit to Europe since the murder nearly four years ago of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the world’s second-largest oil producer, arrived at Orly airport on Wednesday night after a red-carpet stopover in Greece and was greeted by the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, French media reported
He was welcomed at the Élysée Palace on Thursday for a working dinner at which the French president was expected to ask him to boost Saudi oil production amid mounting western concern over winter energy shortages following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The visit marks a further step in Mr bin Salman’s rehabilitation after Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 in what a UN investigation described as an “extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible”.
The inquiry concluded there was “credible evidence” to justify further investigation of high-level Saudi officials including Mr bin Salman, whom US intelligence agencies have alleged approved the operation. Riyadh has blamed rogue agents.
US president Joe Biden travelled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, greeting Mr bin Salman with a fist bump, while Mr Macron visited the kingdom for talks last December and Britain’s Boris Johnson followed suit in March.
Human rights groups were strongly critical. Mr bin Salman’s visit to France and Mr Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia “do not change the fact that [Prince Mohammed] is anything other than a killer,” said Agnès Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, describing the 36-year-old as a man whom “does not tolerate dissent”.
[ Saudi crown prince in Greece for first EU visit since Khashoggi killing ]
[ Biden faces backlash as bin Salman goes unpunished for role in Khashoggi murder ]
Ms Callamard, whom at the time of the killing was the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and whom led its independent investigation, told AFP 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”.
Mr bin Salman’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 said, denouncing “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 Mr 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”.
Julien Bayou, the head of the opposition Green party (EELV), said he was “shocked” France was “completely abandoning the idea of defending human rights in the world … Emmanuel Macron has been forced to roll out the red carpet because we need oil. Fossil fuel dependency means we are selling our principles cheap”.
Two NGOs, 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 Mr bin Salman 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 NGOs argued that as crown prince, Mr Bin Salman 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,” said Dawn’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, according to Le Monde.
Abdullah Alaoudh, Dawn’s Gulf region director, told FranceInfo radio that Prince Mohammed’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 dishonourable”.
Legal experts said it was unlikely Mr bin Salman would be summoned during his stay since it would normally take weeks before an investigating magistrate was appointed. He may, however, be deterred from returning to France by the complaint, a lawyer for the NGOs told the paper. — Guardian