Current Event for the Week of 10-27-2018: Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi journalist, Global Opinions columnist for the Washington Post, and former editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel Jamal Khashoggi offers remarks during POMED's "Mohammed bin Salman's Saudi Arabia: A Deeper Look."

Photo by: POMED // Creative Commons

Article by: Adnan Toric, JD 2021

A single man’s disappearance is simultaneously threatening international relations and poses an interesting question about international law.

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident reporter, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2 and disappeared. Khashoggi entered the consulate to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage. Since his disappearance, there has been speculation that his whereabouts implicates Saudi royalty for murder. 

Khashoggi’s disappearance has incited international outrage from various individuals, organizations, and businesses. A single person’s disappearance has brought more attention to Saudi politics than years of unrest and thousands of deaths. Despite the political nature of Khashoggi’s life, his disappearance raises concerns about consulates and immunity.

First, the consulate itself is in Turkey, which begs the question of why there was no immediate Turkish response. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs prohibits Turkish officials or officers from entering without express permission from the ambassador. There are various limits and restrictions on the host nation’s actions. The meaning of the rules for hosts and consulates has sparked debate over years, so there are not clear-cut rules for either party.

Consequently, there are arguments to why immunity should have been lifted by Saudi Arabia sooner. The Vienna Convention only allows the sending State to waive immunity. Thus, Saudi Arabia had to waive immunity for its premises and diplomats in Turkey, an action that took two weeks to happen.

Instances like Khashoggi’s disappearance incite questions about the power of consular immunity. While consulates exist to maximize diplomacy, they should by no means undermine justice nor promote extra-judicial killings.

If immunity can be abused by a State to conduct illegal activities abroad, then the privilege can undermine common conceptions of justice. While it is doubtful that Khashoggi’s disappearance alone will bring about a change in consulate relations, it may bring about a more thoughtful discourse about consular immunity.