His Excellency Mr. António Guterres
Secretary-General of the United Nations
United Nations Secretariat Building
405 E 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
Cc: Mr. Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz, President, United Nations Security Council
Mr. Vojislav Šuc, President, United Nations Human Rights Council
Dear Secretary-General Guterres,
As writers, journalists, artists, and Members of PEN America and the Authors Guild, we write to express our grave concern about the apparent horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist, Washington Post contributor, and U.S. resident who disappeared in Istanbul on October 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate. If true, the murder of a journalist inside a diplomatic facility would constitute nothing less than an act of state terror intended to intimidate journalists, dissidents, and exiled critics the world over. The United Nations has rightly recognized the importance of ensuring the safety of journalists and fighting impunity for those who attack them with the publication of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed in 2012. In the spirit of that initiative, we respectfully call on you to immediately authorize an independent, international investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and apparent murder.
Since his disappearance, Turkish authorities have claimed to have evidence suggesting that Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered and dismembered inside the consulate, and that the operation was likely carried out by a team including individuals very close to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, making it look extremely likely that the Crown Prince was behind Khashoggi’s assassination. After weeks of denying any involvement in his disappearance, on October 19 Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, claiming his death was the result of a “fight” during attempts to detain him. Global leaders have responded to the details of this admission with significant skepticism. More recently, Saudi authorities have said the murder was “premeditated,” though the details and culpability remain unclear.
The violent murder of a prominent journalist and commentator on foreign soil is a grave violation of human rights and a disturbing escalation of the crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia, whose government in recent years has jailed numerous writers, journalists, human rights advocates, and lawyers in a sweeping assault on free expression and association. It is also yet another data point in a global trend that has seen an increasing number of journalists imprisoned and murdered for their work. As writers and journalists ourselves, we fear the potential chilling effect of this trend, at a moment when the work of all those who would speak and expose the truth has never been more important.
The UN Plan of Action states: “The safety of journalists and the struggle against impunity for their killers are essential to preserve the fundamental right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” and goes on to say that attacks on journalists “[deprive] society as a whole of their journalistic contribution and [result] in a wider impact on press freedom where a climate of intimidation and violence leads to self censorship.” It is imperative that the United Nations send a clear, unquestionable message that a human rights violation of this gravity will not go without consequence.
We therefore respectfully call on you to immediately authorize an independent, international investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi that would lay the groundwork for identifying and holding accountable the perpetrators of this grievous crime.
K. Anthony Appiah
Roy Blount, Jr.
Robert A. Caro
Min Jin Lee
Mario Vargas Llosa
John R. MacArthur
Joyce Carol Oates
George H. Packer