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Open Society calls for global sanctions on Saudi crown prince after US intelligence report on Khashoggi murder

EU Reporter Correspondent



Today (26 February) the Biden administration released an unclassified intelligence report to the US Congress that details who is responsible for the killing of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.  The report confirmed that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) (pictured), directed Khashoggi’s brutal murder in 2018. 

In response to the release, Amrit Singh, lawyer for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “We welcome the Biden administration’s release of this long-awaited report. This is an important step forward, but it is not enough.  The U.S. and other governments must take immediate measures to hold the Crown Prince and the Saudi government accountable for their flagrant disregard for the rule of law.  They must issue a full range of travel and financial sanctions on the Crown Prince.  They must also suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

The Open Society Justice Initiative has sought disclosure of the report in litigation pending before a New York federal court against the U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).  Under the Trump administration, ODNI argued in court that releasing the Congressionally-mandated report on the murder would harm national security, including by revealing intelligence sources and methods.  After the Biden administration took office, ODNI sought and obtained an extension until March 3, 2021 to update the court on the new administration’s position in the lawsuit.

Given today’s new evidence presented to the U.S. Congress, Open Society is calling for immediate accountability measures on the Saudi government and the Crown Prince:

  • United States:
    • Impose the full range of sanctions on MBS and other individuals identified in the report who have not already been designated
    • Suspend all arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as long as it continues to engage in a consistent pattern of gross human rights violations (On 27 January 2021, the Biden administration put a temporary freeze on some sales).
    • Enact legislation that will ensure governments are held accountable for the persecution of dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders.
  • European Union:
    • Impose travel and financial sanctions on MBS under the new EU Global Human Rights Sanction Regime.
  • Key U.S. Allies (United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Canada, and Australia):
    • Impose the full range of sanctions on MBS and other individuals identified in the report who have not already been designated
    • Suspend all arms sales to KSA as long as it continues to engage in a consistent pattern of gross human rights violations.

In a parallel lawsuit pending in the same federal court against CIA, ODNI, and the Departments of Defense and State, the Open Society Justice Initiative is challenging the U.S. government’s withholding of additional records about the murder, including a tape of the murder and a 2018 CIA report on the murder that reportedly identified the Crown Prince as responsible.  The CIA has informed the Court that, by March 10, it will produce a “Vaughn index” identifying the report and explaining the legal basis for withholding it.

Singh went on to say, “The U.S. government still needs to disclose numerous other records about the murder and its cover-up that it has withheld from the public in Open Society’s litigation.”

The Open Society Justice Initiative is represented before the court by Amrit Singh and James A.
Goldston, together with Debevoise & Plimpton, a leading international law firm, with offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Debevoise team is led by Catherine Amirfar and Ashika Singh.

Documents released in litigation are publicly available on the Open Society Foundations’ Document Cloud.

Saudi Arabia

Khashoggi's fiancée says Saudi crown prince should be punished 'without delay'





The fiancée of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi called on Monday for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be punished after a US intelligence report found he had approved the killing. Khashoggi, a US resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post criticising Saudi policies, was killed and dismembered by a team linked to the crown prince in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A US intelligence report on Friday (26 February) found the prince had approved the killing, and Washington imposed sanctions on some of those involved - but not Prince Mohammed himself. The Saudi government, which has denied any involvement by the crown prince, rejected the report’s findings.

“It is essential that the crown prince... should be punished without delay,” Hatice Cengiz (pictured) said on Twitter. “If the crown prince is not punished, it will forever signal that the main culprit can get away with murder which will endanger us all and be a stain on our humanity.”

US President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday imposed a visa ban on some Saudis believed involved in the Khashoggi killing and placed sanctions on others that would freeze their US assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.

Asked about criticism of Washington for not sanctioning Prince Mohammed directly, Biden said an announcement would be made on Monday (1 March), but did not provide details, while a White House official suggested no new steps were expected.

“Starting with the Biden administration, it is vital for all world leaders to ask themselves if they are prepared to shake hands with a person whose culpability as a murderer has been proven,” Cengiz said.

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Qatar stands up to the Saudi bullies and wins

Guest contributor



Today (4 December) it was announced that the Saudi Arabian government is close to agreeing to lift its blockade against Qatar. Having stood firm against Saudi aggression and disinformation, the Qataris will congratulate themselves on having successfully defeated the bully boy tactics of their much larger neighbour, writes Emily Barley.

Jared Kushner, senior advisor and son-in-law to US President Trump, reportedly travelled to Saudi Arabia with a team of envoys early this week. His brief was to bring an end to the blockade of Qatar, in a last push for foreign policy wins in the President’s final days in office. It seems that this move was enough to bring Saudi Arabia and the other blockaders into line, and get the deal mediated by Kuwait over the line.

Qatar has weathered the blockade led by its neighbours for over three years, drawing on its gas and oil derived wealth and nimble policy making to stand up to the bully-boy tactics of a coalition of Gulf states led by the Saudis.

In June 2017, a group of Middle Eastern countries – including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and others – imposed a blockade on Qatar. This involved banning their citizens from travelling to or living in the country, expelling Qatari nationals, closing their air space to Qatari aircraft, and closing the country’s only land border.

The group’s demands ranged from shutting down Doha-based news network Al Jazeera to ending military cooperation with Turkey. Perhaps most tellingly, they also demanded Qatar align with the other Arab countries militarily, politically, socially, and economically.

When state-backed newspapers in Saudi Arabia suggested that the country might turn Qatar into an island by building a canal on the border and dumping toxic waste into it, a Financial Times editorial argued that Qatar was being targeted by its neighbours for refusing to accept a ‘shadow role’, choosing to instead pursue its own foreign policy and support the growth of Arab media through Al Jazeera.

After initially backing the blockade in 2017, President Trump quickly withdrew his support when Saudi officials asked him to support a ground invasion of Qatar – a plan which presumably awakened Trump to the reality of their motivations.

The Qatari government has consistently refused to comply with the demands, stating that to do so would mean surrendering sovereignty. The country is determined to carve out its own path, with the space to deviate from Middle Eastern norms – no matter how much pressure it comes under from hostile neighbours.

That pressure has taken many forms, with the blockade causing economic damage as well as tearing families apart. A key plank of the aggression against Qatar has included accusing the country of funding terrorism, despite it being a member of the US-led coalition against Islamic State and hosting the largest US off-shore air base in the world.

Saudi Arabia embarked on a disinformation campaign, flooding social media with fake accounts that latched on to a broad range of issues including British football clubs and coronavirus to attack Qatar. These accounts smear any critic of Saudi Arabia as a pro-Qatar-shill and spread lies about Qatari support for terrorism. Last year The Guardian revealed that the disinformation campaign has even extended to creating a series of unbranded Facebook ‘news’ pages.

Since the start of the blockade it has attracted widespread criticism: human rights groups in Qatar have argued that the blockade was arbitrary, abusive and illegal, while the UN’s International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Qatar in the legal dispute over aircraft. In what may prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the blockade, a report published in November 2020 by a UN special rapporteur labelled the blockade illegal, and called for it to end.

As Saudi Arabia sought and could not find support for its actions outside of the Middle Eastern countries under its immediate influence, its will to continue to the conflict reportedly waned – giving Kushner and his envoys an open door to push on. People close to the talks said that Saudi Arabia was motivated to end the blockade in part by its desire to get back onto a friendly footing with the US as President Trump leaves office and President-elect Biden prepares to enter The White House.

For the last three years the tiny, prosperous country of Qatar has stood up against attacks and smears from its closest neighbours, and the imminent deal shows that its leaders’ determination not to let the bullies win has paid off. Governments around the world will now be watching closely to see how this victory changes the balance of power in the region, and what the Qataris will do next with their freshly-won influence.

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Is #Coffee worth saving?

Guest contributor



Saudi society is changing rapidly. Women have been allowed, and movie theaters have returned to the kingdom. The international community has, rightly, been supportive of these initiatives, writes Joseph Hammond. 

Yet, there are elements of traditional Saudi society worth preserving, which also need international support. One of these is the country’s unique coffee culture.

Coffee is a permanent fixture of Arabian culture which is served everywhere from small cups at wedding celebrations to gatherings by camp-fires flickering under the starry night sky.

From flat whites to modern concoctions like the beloved pumpkin-spiced latte coffee is now a global phenomenon. Yet, Arabia was once so central to the worldwide coffee trade that the port of Mokha, Yemen gave its name to the chocolatey "mocha coffee" found around the world.

After decades of war, Yemen has only recently having revived its ancient tradition of coffee cultivation. Environmentalists should cheer a Yemeni switch from khat to Coffee. Khat, a chewable leafy green stimulant and a thirsty crop, is contributing to Yemen's water crisis.

Across the border, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest coffee producers of the fabled Arabica coffee. The mountainous region of Jazan, located in the southern-most part which borders Yemen, has been producing "black gold" in the form of prize coffee long before it struck oil.  Khawlani coffee production stretches back over three centuries.

Named after the ancient Arab tribe of Khawlan, the tradition of coffee cultivation has been passed down from generation to generation and is continued today by 700 farmers.

Since 2017, the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society has fought to protect the cultivation of the Khawlani bean. Processing the Khawlani bean can be an arduous process. Planted, harvested and processed painstakingly by hand, the Khawlani bean plant can take up to three years to bear fruit. This year the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society has made a formal request to UNESCO for the protection of this ancient Khawlani cultivation method of coffee.

Recognizing Khawlani coffee production comes at a time that other countries are seeking recognition for their unique coffee culture.  Concurrently Italy has asked UNESCO to protect Italian expresso culture. A venture which is somewhat controversial in Italy, as recent years has seen a race to the bottom in terms of quality as vendors have sought to keep the price of one euro. Others suggest such a designation will hurt the evolution of expresso. Still, Italy's chances remain relatively high after traditional Napoli pizza preparation received UNESCO protection in 2017.

Coffee is as important to the Islamic world as pizza is to Italian culture (if not more).

Within the Muslim world, coffee is not merely a beverage to be drunk. Once referred to as the "wine of Islam. During the Middle Ages, the Sufis and other pious Muslims would stay up late praying aided by coffee. In doing so, coffee overcame the opposition of some Muslim leaders such as a ban imposed by the Turkish Sultan Murad the Fifth. In 2013, Turkey advocated successfully to have Turkish coffee culture receive UNESCO protection.

Similarly, many Christian leaders at first opposed what they saw as a Muslim Trojan horse. Years later then Pope Clement VIII sampled it for the first time and had a change of heart. "This Satan's drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it" he supposedly said. Today it is the world's stimulant of choice.

Surely, UNESCO in the coming months has many important issues on its plate from protecting historic structures to the development of sustainable cities. Yet, still this  organization and it's Secretary-General, Audrey Azoulay (who is herself of Moroccan origin) - have time for a coffee break.

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