A federal judge has acted on a complaint from the Human Rights Watch NGO, asking Argentinato investigate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for alleged war crimes and torture, hours after he arrived in the country for the G20 Leaders Summit.
Federal Judge Ariel Lijo has asked prosecutor Ramiro González to investigate whether to press charges.
Last night, the Argentine government said it is not concerned by the legal action.
“We don’t believe the Human Rights Watch writ will prosper,” said a spokesperson for Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, who greeted the prince at the airport yesterday.
“Mohammed bin Salman is protected by diplomatic immunity and he is also travelling in his official status as representative of a foreign head of state. Besides, cases involving diplomatic immunity can only be decided by the Supreme Court and his visit will be too brief for it to reach the court. The case is in the hands of the court and the government will not interfere with it,” said Faurie.
Human Rights Watch filed a submission on November 26 outlining its public findings on alleged violations of international law committed during the armed conflict in Yemen, possible complicity in serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi Consulate last month in Istanbul.
Federal Prosecutor González is in charge of the investigation, and has already requested measures from Lijo. Among them is an exhort to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Turkey regarding any outstanding judicial cases against the Crown Prince.
Furthermore, the prosecutor has asked Judge Lijo to officially request information from the Foreign Ministry fregarding MBS — as the Crown Prince is known — and his status regarding diplomatic immunity, and whether a federal court has jurisdiction over a case regarding a representative of a foreign head of state in an official mission.
“The crown prince’s attendance at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires could make the Argentine courts an avenue of redress for victims of abuses unable to seek justice in Yemen or Saudi Arabia,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch this week.
“The Argentine Judiciary, by taking steps toward a formal investigation, is sending a clear message that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not above the law and will be scrutinized if implicated in grave international crimes,” he added.
The focus is the Saudi-led war in Yemen, for which Mohammed bin Salman may face criminal liability as Saudi Arabia’s defence minister. Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes on civilians, causing severe hunger and health crises in the impoverished country, according to Human Rights Watch.
At the same time, the suspicious death of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has generated a global firestorm, with human rights organisations across the globe calling on Saudi Arabia’s allies, mainly the United States, to hold MBS personally accountable. Saudi Arabian officials have admitted that a hit squad murdered and dismembered Khashoggi, only after claiming the journalist had walked out of the consulate by his own means. Still, Saudi authorities have argued MBS was unaware of the plan to murder Khashoggi, something Turkish president Recep Erdogan has called into question, claiming to have evidence suggesting the Crown Prince is responsible.
Argentina’s constitution recognises universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture, meaning judicial authorities in the country are empowered to investigate and prosecute crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims.
Argentina’s Criminal Code allows any person to make a submission to judicial authorities in the country if they know or have been directly affected by the commission of a crime. If there are indications that a crime may have been committed, the matter is later allocated through a lottery to a federal prosecutor or judge for formal investigation.
For now, it seems, MBS is off the hook.