The Saudi official, who is said to have twice threatened independent UN investigator Agnes Callamard, is the head of the kingdom’s human rights commission and previously served as an assistant to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Awwad al-Awwad reportedly threatened twice to “deal” with Callamard during a January 2020 meeting with senior human rights officials in Geneva.
The Guardian first reported news of the threats earlier this week following an interview with Callamard in which she recalled being alerted to the threats by her UN colleagues. On Wednesday, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed Callamard’s account.
“We confirm that the details of the Guardian’s story on the threat against Agnès Callamard are correct. After the threat was made, OHCHR informed Ms. Callamard herself, as well as the UN Security and the President of the Human Rights Council, who in turn informed the relevant authorities ”, said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. rights.
The Guardian told a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington on Wednesday that it intended to publish an article identifying Awwad as the individual who made the alleged threats, and asked the Saudi government for comment. Awwad, in addition to being a former assistant to the crown prince, served as the kingdom’s ambassador to Germany.
On Thursday, Awwad posted a series of tweets in which he said it had been brought to his attention that Callamard and some UN officials believed he had issued the threats, which he denied “in the strongest terms. strong ”. He also raised the possibility that the story could have been “concocted” to distract people from “the important work that we are doing to advance human rights in Saudi Arabia”.
“While I can’t remember the exact conversations, I never wished or threatened any harm to a UN appointed person, or anyone for that matter,” he tweeted. “I am disheartened that everything I have said could be interpreted as a threat. I am a human rights defender and I spend my day working to ensure that these values are respected. “
He added: “As a former diplomat, I understand the critical importance of dialogue, even with people with whom we may strongly disagree… I see threats against any individual’s personal integrity as well as against my code. moral. And they are a violation of the most sacred principles of my religion.
Callamard is a French national who has served as special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions since 2016. She will assume a new role as Amnesty International’s secretary general later this month.
The Guardian has learned that the UN is taking the alleged threats against Callamard seriously enough that French authorities can raise the issue privately with Saudi Arabia.
According to Callamard’s own account, based on what the UN told him, other Saudi officials who were present at the meeting sought to urge UN officials that Awwad’s remarks – that Callamard could be “taken in” if the UN did not get it under control. en – should not be taken seriously. They then left the room while Awwad stayed behind and reportedly repeated his remark, saying that the “problem” had to be fixed.
The comments, seen as a threat, were made at a time when Callamard’s investigations were putting pressure on the kingdom.
In June 2019, Callamard released a report that found “credible evidence” that Bin Salman, the de facto Saudi leader, was responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
She was also investigating the alleged hacking of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, by Saudi Arabia.
Callamard and David Kaye, then special rapporteur for free speech, released a statement on January 22 calling for an investigation into the possible personal involvement of Bin Salman in the deployment of spyware on Bezos’ phone. They also revealed that they had received reports that a WhatsApp account belonging to the crown prince had sent digital spyware allowing monitoring of Bezos’ phone. Saudi Arabia has denied the allegation.
While Callamard and Kaye’s investigation was not public at the time of Awwad’s January 20 meetings with UN officials in Geneva, investigators had sent a letter to Saudi authorities days earlier – on the 17th. January 2020 – alerting the kingdom to detailed allegations uncovered in their investigation and that they planned to release their findings. It is not clear whether Awwad was aware of the letter during his visit to Geneva.
Callamard and Kaye wrote in their letter: “We may express our concerns publicly in the near future because, in our opinion, the information on which the press release will be based is sufficiently reliable to indicate an issue requiring immediate attention. We also believe that the general public should be alerted to the potential implications of the aforementioned allegations. The press release will indicate that we have been in contact with Your Excellency’s Government [sic] to clarify the issue (s) in question. ”
According to a press release from Saudi Arabia, Awwad met with UN officials three days after the letter was sent, on January 20, 2020.
The Saudi press release said Awwad had highlighted “a danger of politicizing human rights” and called on the Human Rights Council to “unify efforts in the area of human rights. man and avoid politicization ”.