Highlighting notable investigative progress into international crimes committed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, and cooperation of Iraqi authorities, the head of the United Nations team probing those transgressions called for the adoption of adequate domestic legislation to ensure accountability and enable prosecution of core international crimes, during his semi-annual briefing to the Security Council today.
Christian Ritscher, Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), briefing the Council on the Team’s ninth report (document S/2022/836), said that UNITAD has continued its investigations into international crimes committed by ISIL/Da’esh against all communities of Iraq. All this investigative work would not be possible without close cooperation with Iraq’s national authorities, he emphasized, noting that various lines of enquiry have developed.
Highlighting completion of the case assessment focused on crimes committed against the Christian community in Iraq, he said the Team identified several ISIL/Da’esh leaders and members that participated in acts constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Team’s investigations into the development and use of chemical and biological weapons by ISIL/Da’esh have also progressed. UNITAD has also begun its investigations into the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq by ISIL/Da’esh, he said, adding that several fighters responsible for those crimes have already been identified.
Detailing UNITAD’s continued work in capacity-enhancement, excavation of ISIL/Da’esh-related mass graves in Iraq, preservation of evidence, and repatriation of Iraqi nationals from camps in neighbouring countries, he stressed that: “One of our key goals is to support Iraq in playing a leading role in holding ISIL/Da’esh members accountable for international crimes.”
He encouraged the Iraqi Council of Representatives to consider adopting adequate domestic legislation on core international crimes, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. “UNITAD will not stop to ensure that justice is delivered for the thousands of victims and survivors who have been impatiently waiting to see their day in court,” he said, affirming the Team’s continued engagement with Member States and civil society.
In the ensuing debate, Council members welcomed progress across all lines of investigation and commended related cooperation between UNITAD and Iraq. Underscoring the importance of holding perpetrators to account, several speakers joined the Special Adviser in calling for domestic legislation for the prosecution of crimes by ISIL/Da’esh, while others pointed out that Iraq’s domestic laws do not relate to and should not be linked to UNITAD’s mandate.
India’s representative, Council President for December, speaking in her national capacity, joined other delegations in welcoming ongoing cooperation between the Iraqi authorities and UNITAD, highlighting her country’s political and financial support to the Team. While case-building and information-sharing are important, the timely sharing of evidence with Iraqi authorities for national prosecutions is key to advancing full accountability, she emphasized, encouraging UNITAD to work closely with the Government.
Ireland’s representative was among several speakers who underscored that the key to holding ISIL/Da’esh perpetrators to account is adoption of national legislation enabling the domestic prosecution of war crimes. He called on the Iraqi authorities to progress that initiative as a matter of priority, stressing that such legislation must preclude application of the death penalty.
Norway’s representative, in a similar vein, emphasized that adoption of domestic legislation to establish a legal basis for prosecuting ISIL/Da’esh’s atrocities in Iraq as international crimes, as well as adoption of a moratorium on the use of capital punishment, will allow UNITAD to share its collected evidence with Iraqi authorities.
The representatives of China and the Russian Federation pointed out that collecting and accumulating information are not ends in themselves. China’s representative said that Iraq’s domestic laws and legislative process “have nothing to do” with the Team’s mandate and should not be linked to the issue of evidence transfer. When sharing information collected in Iraq with other Member States, UNITAD should first obtain Iraq’s consent and adhere to the principles of transparency and non-discrimination, he said.
The Russian Federation’s representative also emphasized that the Investigative Team’s objective is to support national efforts of law enforcement and judiciary bodies of Iraq. Voicing hope that evidence collected will be expeditiously transferred to Iraq, he highlighted that ISIL/Da’esh used their advances in chemical and biological weapons in other countries, including neighbouring Syria.
The representative of the United States, on that note, said the terrorist group has continued to use violence in Syria and Iraq, and has sought to refill its ranks by breaking out captive fighters from detention centres. Noting the continued presence of thousands of ISIL/Da’esh fighters and their families in displacement camps in Iraq and Syria, he underscored the urgency for all States to repatriate and prosecute, as appropriate, their nationals who have committed crimes as foreign fighters.
Iraq’s representative commended UNITAD’s substantial investigative progress, as well as its efforts to ensure accountability in cooperation with Iraqi authorities. The most important challenge ahead is ensuring that justice is done, and evidence communicated as quickly as possible to the Iraqi Government, so that it can be used in Iraqi courts. Emphasizing that the evidence is there, and perpetrators identified, he asked: “Why is it then that these individuals are not brought to justice?”
Noting that extension of UNITAD’s mandate under Council resolution 2651 (2022) was difficult for his Government, he underscored the need to develop a plan of cooperation with the Iraqi Government. This plan will determine specific goals, including the timely provision of evidence to competent Iraqi authorities for the holding of independent and fair criminal proceedings and ensure that implementation of the mandate respects Iraq’s sovereignty, he said.
Also speaking were representatives of United Kingdom, Albania, France, United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Gabon, Mexico, Brazil and Kenya.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:38 a.m.