Security Council

Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) - Security Council Open VTC

Innovative partnership between Iraqi authorities, team investigating ISIL/Da’esh atrocity crimes, ‘is working’, Special Adviser tells Security Council.

The head of the United Nations team investigating atrocity crimes committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) called on the Security Council today to maintain its unanimous support as the team makes strides in pursuit of justice for victims through its innovative model, in close collaboration with Iraqis.

“The unique partnership underpinning this mandate, that of independent investigations and close collaboration with national authorities and of international standards adapted to domestic contexts, is working,” Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and Head of United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD), told the 15-nation council.

Mr. Khan, introducing the fifth report of the Team (document S/2020/1107), paid tribute to the resilience of all communities of Iraq, marking the three-year anniversary of liberation of the country’s entire territory from the shadow of Da’esh. Recounting the reactions of Yazidi victims’ families as excavations supported by his Team resumed at a mass grave site of teenage children and women in Sinjar, he said: “It is my personal commitment that, as we continue our excavations in Zagaroutia, Anbar and Mosul early next year, our Team will ensure that this work, and indeed all of our investigative activities, are guided by a trauma-informed approach.”

The recommencement of mass grave excavations a month ago is just one example of the way in which the Team has developed innovative solutions and drawn on its partnership with survivors, Iraqi national counterparts and other actors in order to confront the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 over the last six months, he continued. The Team has developed user-friendly online platforms that have allowed impacted communities to come forward with their accounts, for example. Through a collaboration with Microsoft, it has also strengthened its capabilities in facial recognition and machine translation, along with and automatic detection and labelling of videos with graphic content.

Such innovations, he noted, has allowed the Team to envisage finalization in the first half of next year of the first thematic case briefs related to crimes committed against the Yazidi community in Sinjar and the massacre of unarmed air cadets and other personnel in Tikrit. In parallel, the Team has continued to expand its lines of investigation, with new units having been established in large part thanks to contributions made by the United States and the United Kingdom. As a result, investigations in relation to crimes committed against the Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak, Sunni and Turkmen Shia communities are also now progressing rapidly and making good the commitment to address crimes against all communities.

As well, UNITAD has also strengthened its cooperation with Iraqi authorities and those of the Kurdistan Region through establishing a coherent framework for all mass grave excavation in line with international standards for identification of victims and gathering criminal evidence, he said. The utmost priority is being given to the prompt return of remains, which should soon commence. In addition, over 18 Iraqi authorities are now engaged in digitalizing archives for criminal proceedings and other Iraqi actors have undertaken initiatives that uncovered tens of thousands of pieces of Da’esh internal records.

However, he stressed: “It is not sufficient for us to simply gather evidence of ISIL crimes. Our commitment will only be satisfied when this evidence is presented in court and survivors of ISIL atrocities are able to see their abusers held accountable in accordance with the rule of law.” To that end, he underlined the importance of Iraqi efforts to create a legal framework that would allow for the prosecution of ISIL crimes as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide under Iraqi domestic law. He welcomed Iraqi considerations on how UNITAD may support such prosecutions in a manner consistent with its Terms of Reference.

Meanwhile, agreement has been reached on the Team’s provision of training and support to Iraqi investigative judges in building case files, starting with those related to the widespread sexual slavery committed by ISIL and a high-level member of ISIL presently in detention, he said.

The report also describes progress in evidence-sharing and other support to ongoing domestic proceedings, he noted. Engagement with all parts of Iraqi society, through the UNITAD-NGO Dialogue Forum, and meetings with leaders of the Shia, Sunni, Yazidi, Christian and Kaka’i faiths have reinforced the effectiveness and impartiality of the investigations and repudiation of any claim by Da’esh of legitimacy. Through all such activity, the coming year should see the development of a strong basis on which the Iraqi authorities and those of other States can take forward domestic proceedings against those members of Da’esh most responsible for horrific crimes, he said.

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