Argentine prosecutors are considering charging Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman with war crimes and torture if he flies to Buenos Aires for the G20 summit this week.
The move comes after advocacy group Human Rights Watch wrote to a federal prosecutor arguing that the Argentinian courts should invoke a universal jurisdiction statute in Argentinian law, to seek prosecution of the Crown Prince for mass civilian casualties caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen, and for the torture of Saudi citizens, including Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.
The writ presented by Human Rights Watch was received at the court of federal judge Ariel Lijo, who forwarded it to federal prosecutor Ramiro González.
The prosecutor must now decide if the principle of universal jurisdiction, enshrined in Argentina’s constitution, applies in the case of the crown prince.
Judicial sources were quoted as saying that the likelihood that this will happen “is very difficult”, the newspaper Clarín reported, adding that Khashoggi’s murder might not qualify as a “crime against human rights.” However, the HRW submission is based on a wider pattern of torture as well as military operations in Yemen.
Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes on civilians and civilian objects in Yemen, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, and mosques,” a HRW statement said. “Many of these attacks – if carried out with criminal intent – indicate possible war crimes. The coalition has also imposed and maintained a naval and air blockade on Yemen that has severely restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians. Millions of civilians face hunger and disease.”
A source from President Mauricio Macri’s office Monday declined to comment on the request for Mohammed bin Salman’s arrest should he land on Argentinian soil.
“We can make no comment on that. All we can say is that Mohammed bin Salman’s attendance remains confirmed, we have received no contrary information so far,” the source told the Guardian.
Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, said in a written statement that “Argentine prosecutorial authorities should scrutinise Mohammed bin Salman’s role in possible war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 in Yemen.”
“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.”
The prince is on the guest list for the two-day summit which starts on Friday, and Donald Trump has said he is prepared to meet him, despite growing opposition in Congress to US military support for Saudi Arabia, and its campaign of aerial bombing and economic strangulation in Yemen. Over 50,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war so far, and the Save the Children charity has said a further 85,000 children may have died from starvation.