PM de­fends hu­man rights ef­forts

Trudeau de­murs on Khashoggi, de­fends Canada’s work to date call­ing out Saudis

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - NATIONAL NEWS - JAMES MCCARTEN

WASH­ING­TON — Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau de­murred Fri­day on the dark­en­ing mys­tery sur­round­ing the fate of Ja­mal Khashoggi, say­ing only that Canada has “se­ri­ous is­sues” with re­ports the Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist was killed by Saudi Ara­bian op­er­a­tives in­side that coun­try’s con­sulate in Turkey.

But he in­sisted Canada has done plenty when it comes to call­ing the king­dom on the diplo­matic car­pet over its dis­mal hu­man rights record.

“We have been ex­tremely ac­tive both in pri­vate and in pub­lic over many years now around our con­cern for hu­man rights in Saudi Ara­bia, and we will con­tinue to be clear and strong in speaking up for hu­man rights around the world, re­gard­less of with whom,” Trudeau told a news con­fer­ence at la Fran­co­phonie’s bi­en­nial sum­mit in Ar­me­nia.

He said he broached the sub­ject him­self dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion last spring with King Sal­man bin Ab­du­laziz Al Saud.

“We will al­ways en­deav­our to do it in a con­struc­tive way, but we will be en­sur­ing that peo­ple know that Canada is un­equiv­o­cal in stand­ing up for hu­man rights — ev­ery­where, all the time.”

The in­trigue sur­round­ing Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance has only deep­ened since he was last seen Oct. 2 en­ter­ing the Saudi con­sulate in Is­tan­bul.

U.S. me­dia re­ports say Turk­ish of­fi­cials have au­dio and video record­ings that prove Khashoggi was in­ter­ro­gated, tor­tured and killed by a Saudi se­cu­rity team in­side the con­sulate, where he had gone to ob­tain of­fi­cial doc­u­ments be­fore his wed­ding the next day. A chill­ing New York Times re­port says the Saudis brought a bone saw and a doc­tor of foren­sic medicine to dis­mem­ber the body.

“This par­tic­u­lar case is of course of con­cern, and we join with our al­lies around the world in ex­press­ing se­ri­ous is­sues with these re­ports,” Trudeau said. “Ob­vi­ously there is a lot more to un­cover on what hap­pened here, so I’m not go­ing to com­ment too much on this.”

The fed­eral Lib­eral govern­ment has good rea­son to tread softly, given the king­dom’s out­sized re­sponse in Au­gust to a tweet from For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land that called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of de­tained ac­tivists, in­clud­ing Sa­mar Badawi, a cham­pion of women’s rights and the sis­ter of de­tained blog­ger Raif Badawi.

Saudi Ara­bia re­called its am­bas­sador in Ot­tawa, put a freeze on trade, can­celled flights to and from Toronto and pulled its stu­dents from Cana­dian med­i­cal schools, prompt­ing with­er­ing crit­i­cism of the Trudeau govern­ment from Op­po­si­tion MPs and oth­ers — in­clud­ing Den­nis Ho­rak, Canada’s former Saudi am­bas­sador, who this week ac­cused the fed­eral govern­ment of over­play­ing its hand.

But the Khashoggi saga un­der­mines that ar­gu­ment, said Fen Hampson, of the Nor­man Paterson School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at Car­leton Univer­sity in Ot­tawa.

“In some ways, what has hap­pened re­ally has vin­di­cated the ac­tions of our for­eign min­is­ter, to call them on the car­pet for their hu­man rights be­hav­iour,” Hampson said. “There’s more and more ev­i­dence mount­ing that ... we were pre­pared to call a spade a spade.”

One govern­ment source, speaking frankly in ex­change for anonymity, said Fri­day that Trudeau’s ret­i­cence to speak out on Khashoggi had “zero” to do with any pre-ex­ist­ing sen­si­tiv­i­ties: “We are still gather­ing in­tel­li­gence on this and talk­ing to al­lies.”

Free­land her­self has said lit­tle on the mat­ter in re­cent weeks, although she did ac­knowl­edge dur­ing a Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions event in New York last month that she had been speaking fre­quently by phone with Ab­del Al-Jubeir, her Saudi coun­ter­part.

For­eign Af­fairs of­fi­cials say Free­land met with Al-Jubeir in per­son that same week on the mar­gins of the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly, although the pair have not met or spo­ken since.

There is, of course, an­other diplo­matic wrin­kle: the United States, which has long cul­ti­vated close re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia and cur­rently has a pres­i­dent whose busi­ness ties to the re­gion are deep and well known. Don­ald Trump has also struck a muted tone on the Khashoggi case in re­cent days.

“We’re look­ing at it very strongly,” he said Thurs­day in the Oval Of­fice. “What hap­pened is a ter­ri­ble thing, as­sum­ing that hap­pened. I mean, maybe we’ll be pleas­antly sur­prised, but some­how I tend to doubt it.”

Both coun­tries have a lot to lose fi­nan­cially, as well. Trump of­ten talks about US$110 bil­lion with of arms sales to Saudi Ara­bia — and while re­ports de­scribe that dollar fig­ure as more wish list than bot­tom line, the pres­i­dent is not keen to jeop­ar­dize it. In Canada’s case, a $15-bil­lion con­tract to pro­vide On­tario-made light ar­moured ve­hi­cles is very real — as is the Lib­eral com­mit­ment to honour­ing a deal signed by their Con­ser­va­tive pre­de­ces­sors.

“We re­spected that con­tract, but at the same time brought in sig­nif­i­cantly new and strength­ened mea­sures around trans­parency, around ac­count­abil­ity, in en­sur­ing that on a go-for­ward ba­sis, we are mak­ing sure that Cana­di­ans’ ex­pec­ta­tions and laws are al­ways be­ing fol­lowed,” Trudeau said.

Mean­while, mem­bers of Congress are spoil­ing for a fight, in­clud­ing a pow­er­ful bi­par­ti­san group of Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can sen­a­tors from the Com­mit­tee on For­eign Re­la­tions, which has for­mally started a 120-day clock on so­called Mag­nit­sky sanc­tions against the king­dom.

In some ways, what has hap­pened re­ally has vin­di­cated the ac­tions of our for­eign min­is­ter, to call them on the car­pet for their hu­man rights be­hav­iour. There’s more and more ev­i­dence mount­ing that ... we were pre­pared to call a spade a spade.” ”

Fen Hampson, of the Nor­man Paterson School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at Car­leton Univer­sity in Ot­tawa

GETTY IMAGES

Saudi of­fi­cials leave the Saudi Ara­bia’s con­sulate on Fri­day in Is­tan­bul, Turkey. Fears are grow­ing over the fate of miss­ing journalist Ja­mal Khashoggi af­ter Turk­ish of­fi­cials said they be­lieve he was mur­dered in­side the Saudi con­sulate.

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