New U.S. report omits Saudi crown prince from Jamal Khashoggi section

In remarks unveiling the State Department’s new 2018 Human Rights report Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would “expose violation of human rights wherever they occur.” But he made no mention of one of the highest-profile human rights violations in 2018, the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the suspected involvement of the Saudi crown prince in the murder.

The State Department’s report does call out Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s killing but also does not mention Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The report, which lists alleged human rights violations around the world, includes Khashoggi’s murder in the country summary for Saudi Arabia and at the top of a section titled “Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings.” The document lists actions taken by the Saudi government, including the dismissal of five-high level ministers, but makes no reference to U.S. intelligence reports that bin Salman himself likely ordered his death. 

“We have not — and not only in the report but I think in any other format — tried to draw our own conclusions as to who was and who was not responsible,” said Ambassador Michael Kozak, who oversaw the publication of the document. “Until we see that, trying to speculate about who might and might not have been involved is just not productive.”

Kozak would not comment on whether intelligence reports regarding the culpability of the crown prince had been considered by the authors. 

“I’m not going to even say with respect to particular countries,whether it’s Saudi or anybody else” he said, “But I can say that we routinely review intelligence information as part of our daily job when we’re doing the reports.”

After a January meeting with bin Salman, Pompeo told reporters he’d addressed Khashoggi’s killing and demanded the perpetrators be “brought to justice.” But the murder of an American citizen at the hands of Saudi agents has not otherwise appeared to have altered the U.S.-Saudi relationship. In the preface to the report, Pompeo wrote that human rights abuses will not prevent the U.S. from pursuing its objectives abroad. 

“The policy of this administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further U.S interests,” he said. 

How the U.S. should deal with countries that have contentious human rights records has long been a source of debate in diplomatic circles. Kosak said American engagement with these nations can, itself, be a catalyst for change. 

“I think the reason that that’s in the preface is to make it clear that our engaging with them does not mean we’re approving or accepting of their behavior,” he said. “We’re saying we’re engaging with them despite their behavior sometimes. And trying to use engagement to make improvements in that.”

When asked, however, if the State Department had seen any improvement in human rights in North Korea since the increase in U.S. engagement, Kosak said no. 

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