Human Rights Watch ask Argentina to press charges against Saudi Crown Prince as G20 nears

By November 27, 2018

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman may face criminal charges in Argentina when he arrives for the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires this weekend.

American NGO Human Rights Watch filed a submission with an Argentine federal prosecutor in the hope that he may be arrested for his involvement in alleged war crimes, as well as the high-profile murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Argentine prosecutorial authorities should scrutinize Mohammed Bin Salman’s role in possible war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 in Yemen,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “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.”

Argentina’s constitution recognises universal jurisdiction for war crimes, which means that the country’s justice system can investigate and prosecute individuals for these crimes no matter where they were committed.

Salman, as well as being the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, also serves as deputy prime minister and defense minister, and oversees all military Saudi forces. He has served as the commander of the nine-country international coalition which is involved in Yemen’s armed conflict and hopes to restore ex-president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. The BBC reported that the UK, US and France have supplied logistical and intelligence support to the coalition.

However, Human Rights Watch reported that the group have carried out “indiscriminate and disproportionate” airstrikes in Yemen, hitting homes, schools, hospitals as well as other public buildings, and killing thousands of civilians. They have also instigated a naval and air blockade on Yemen, which the United Nations has said could put 14 million people at risk of starvation, as well as restricting the entry of fuel and medicine. The Human Rights Watch petition stated that it “may also have violated the prohibition against using starvation as a method of warfare, which is a war crime.”

If carried out with criminal intent, the NGO argued, then the air attacks and the blockades could be described as war crimes and will have to be treated as such. The coalition has carried out an investigation into these actions, but Human Rights Watch stated that it was not carried out to international levels of transparency.

The petition was handed to Federal Judge Ariel Lijo, who passed it onto Lawyer Ramiro González, who will lead the case. After US intelligence agencies determined that Salman had authorised the killing of journalist Khashoggi, causing widespread outrage, the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires was the prince’s chance to prove that he was still welcome in international meetings.

“A decision by Argentine officials to move towards investigation would be a strong signal that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not beyond the reach of the law,” Roth said. “And Mohammed bin Salman should know that he may face a criminal probe if he ventures to Argentina.”

However, Argentine authorities told The New York Times that it is extremely unlikely that the inquiry will manage to produce an arrest warrant for the Saudi prince before Friday, when the summit is due to begin. The issue of diplomatic immunity could also protect him from being detained even if the warrant is presented in time.