Rights groups urge Turkey to request UN probe of Khashoggi case

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Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October

Four prominent human rights and press freedom groups on Thursday urged Turkey to request a United Nations investigation into the possible murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to prevent a "whitewash" of the alleged crime.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders said such a probe established by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would shed light on the fate of the prominent journalist.

Khashoggi, a legal resident of the United States who wrote for The Washington Post, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

Media reports citing Turkish officials have said Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents within minutes of entering the consulate and that his body was dismembered.

"Turkey should enlist the UN to initiate a timely, credible, and transparent investigation," said Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"UN involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh."

Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance, while President Donald Trump has suggested that "rogue killers" may have carried out the crime.

The Khashoggi affair has triggered a backlash against Saudi Arabia amid reports that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.

- Not good enough -

At a news conference held at the United Nations, the four groups said evidence collected by a UN investigation team could be preserved for use in prosecutions.

The team should have access to all potential witnesses or suspects and recommend avenues for bringing to justice anyone against whom credible evidence is found.

"Jamal Khashoggi's family and the rest of the world deserve the full truth about what happened to him," said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.

"Partial explanations and one-sided investigations by Saudi Arabia, which is suspected of involvement, aren't good enough. Only the UN has the credibility and independence required to expose the masterminds behind Khashoggi's enforced disappearance and to hold them to account."

British Ambassador Karen Pierce separately told reporters that the United Nations would only step in to investigate if it receives a request, adding that it was unlikely that the Saudi government would take such a step.

"I think the most important thing is that there is some introspection within the Saudi system about this dreadful incident," Pierce told reporters.

Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia has the most to gain from an impartial UN investigation.

"Without a credible UN inquiry, there will always be a cloud of suspicion hanging over Saudi Arabia, no matter what its leadership says to explain away how Khashoggi vanished," said Sherine Tadros, head the New York office of Amnesty International.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the suspected murder of Khashoggi as "one of the most shocking and extreme cases in recent years".

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said the United Nations must be "fully engaged" in efforts to shed light on Khashoggi's fate to show that it truly is mobilized in the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists.

Guterres at the weekend said in a BBC interview that the world should know "the truth" about Khashoggi's disappearance, and expressed fear that such incidents were becoming a "new normal".