At the behest of human rights advocates, Argentinian prosecutors are considering bringing criminal charges against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), days before he is set to arrive in Buenos Aires for the G20 summit, alleging that he has committed war crimes in Yemen.
Citing Argentina's robust human rights law, Human Right Watch (HRW) filed a petition on Monday asking a federal prosecutor to bring charges against the crown prince, a close ally of President Donald Trump, for "violations of international law committed during the armed conflict in Yemen" including the killings of more than 15,000 civilians and blockades which have pushed 14 million people to the brink of famine.
"A decision by Argentine officials to move toward investigation would be a strong signal that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not beyond the reach of the law." —Kenneth Roth, HRW
"Argentine prosecutorial authorities should scrutinize Mohammed bin Salman's role in possible war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 in Yemen," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW, in a statement. "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."
Argentina observes universal jurisdiction, giving prosecutors the right to bring charges against officials suspected of war crimes and torture, regardless of where the crimes took place.
In its petition, HRW highlighted nearly 90 "indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes on civilians" in which the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition has "hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools and mosques" across Yemen.
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With its blockades of Yemeni ports and airports, the Saudis "may also have violated the prohibition against using starvation as a method of warfare, which is a war crime," the group argued.
In addition to the horror the kingdom has inflicted on Yemen at the direction of the crown prince, who serves as the Saudi defense minister, the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi-born U.S. resident who was killed by Saudi agents last month, could factor into potential Argentine charges against MbS as well.
Despite the international outrage sparked by Khashoggi's killing, the crown prince has been emboldened in recent days by Trump's vocal support for him. The president said last week that he did not believe the CIA's report linking MbS to the murder, a statement cited soon after by the Saudi foreign minister to legitimize claims that the prince was not involved.
Argentinian charges regarding war crimes—or even MbS's decision to back out of the G20 summit as potential charges loom—could send a strong message that the crown prince will be held accountable for his actions, even as Trump refuses to cut off support for him in the interest of the pair's business relationship.
"A decision by Argentine officials to move toward investigation would be a strong signal that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not beyond the reach of the law," Roth said. "And Mohammed bin Salman should know that he may face a criminal probe if he ventures to Argentina."