Last Tuesday, the European Parliament congregated in Brussels to listen to Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the murdered Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Cengiz had been invited by the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights to give evidence on the human rights abuses occurring within the Gulf Cooperation Council states. During her speech, Cengiz urged the E.U. to “transcend economic interests”, and to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for Khashoggi’s murder.
Khashoggi was a U.S. resident and columnist at the Washington Post, and well-known for his disapproval of the Saudi regime. On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi went missing after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to receive the documentation necessary to marry Cengiz. Later, due to immense international pressure, Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate by a Saudi squad.
While the brutal murder of Khashoggi created an uproar at the international level, Saudi Arabia has faced few consequences for its evident breach of international human rights, and those responsible have yet to even be sanctioned.
During her speech, Cengiz stated, “I’m here not only as the fiancée of Jamal, but also for the values he fought for, values he wanted for the people in his own country, the people of the Arab world.” Cengiz further argued that if a prominent figure such as Khashoggi could become a target of the Saudi government, then “… anybody could fall victim of this system”.
Member of the European Parliament, Pier Antonio Panzeri, stated that the E.U. must not continue to “… allow Saudi Arabia and its leadership to get away with too little”. A number of critics believe that the E.U. has begun to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, with the European Commission last week having blacklisted Saudi Arabia as a “high-risk jurisdiction for financing terrorism and money laundering”.
Despite this, international relations with Saudi Arabia remain complex as a result of economic interests. In 2017, Saudi Arabia imported more arms than any other country, with nearly a quarter of such arms being exported from E.U. states. Such double standards have been pointed out by Panzeri, who stated that, “There should be coherence on the part of the E.U. It can’t, on one hand, ask that human rights be respected, and on the other provide weapons for the conflict in Yemen.” This double standard was also demonstrated by the U.S., as seen with Saudi Arabia, being a principal buyer of U.S. weaponry between 2013 and 2017. The U.S. have also been accused of aiding Saudi Arabia in covering up Khashoggi’s murder after President Donald Trump’s administration failed to report back to congress on the matter.
While the E.U. has been more vocal than the U.S. in its criticism of the Saudi regime, the truth remains that they must indeed “transcend its economic interests” if it wants to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions against Khashoggi and other human rights abuses. The E.U. cannot pressure Saudi Arabia to uphold international human rights while reaping from the economic profits of war.