‘We Now Stand at a Turning Point’ with Unexpected Hope, Head of United Nations Team Investigating ISIL/Da’esh Atrocity Crimes in Iraq Tells Security Council

Efforts Must Move from Collecting Evidence To Extraditing, Prosecuting Those Responsible in Iraq, Key Representative Says

Significant steps have been taken in the pursuit of justice and securing accountability for victims, including by gathering and analysing evidence of crimes perpetrated by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), and tying those crimes to specific members, the head of the United Nations team tasked with investigating atrocity crimes by that group told the Security Council today.

“I believe we now stand at a turning point, a moment of perhaps unexpected hope,” Christian Ritscher, Special Adviser and Head of the 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. “We can envision a new landscape in which those who believed themselves to be out of reach of justice are held accountable in a court of law,” he said.

Presenting the Team’s seventh report (document S/2021/974), he outlined its investigations and analyzation of documentary, testimonial and forensic evidence, including internal ISIL/Da’esh documents, to assemble a picture of the terrorist organization’s operations, including how its attack on the Badush Central Prison in June 2014, in which a thousand largely Shia prisoners were systematically executed; the inner workings of its treasury, Bayt-al Mal or “House of Money”; and the development of its chemical weapons programmes, which affected as many as 3,000 victims identified to date.

He also described stepped-up efforts to support national authorities in the conduct of international-standard trials, adding that by the end of 2022, UNITAD will have established a comprehensive legal basis for the prosecution of ISIL/Da’esh members. He also called attention to the first-ever conviction of an ISIL/Da’esh member for the crime of genocide in the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt, Germany, in which a five-year-old Yazidi girl, purchased along with her mother as part of the group’s enslavement of the Yazidi community, was left to die in 50°C heat in Fallujah. Quoting Yazidi survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Nadia Murad’s reaction to the judgement — “When survivors seek justice, they look for someone to give them hope that justice is possible” — he stressed that her words underline the Team’s collective responsibility as it continues its work.

In the ensuing debate, Council members took the floor to applaud UNITAD’s work in gathering and analysing evidence, paving the way for eventual accountability and justice for the victims of ISIL/Da’esh’s crimes. Many emphasized the need for such evidence to feed into judicial proceedings, through enhanced cooperation with Iraqi authorities, with some pointing out that those proceedings needed to be conducted in a manner that adhered to human rights.

The representative of Mexico was among many who welcomed the close cooperation between Iraqi authorities and UNITAD, including the digitization of documentary evidence; the provision of training and technical support for the exhumation of mass graves; and the provision of courses for judges in international criminal law.

In a similar vein, Niger’s delegate, Council President for December, speaking in his national capacity, welcomed the strong cooperation between UNITAD and the Iraqi authorities in the implementation of resolution 2379 (2017), and highlighted the progress made in the work of UNITAD’s Financial Crimes Unit in the collection of evidence concerning the internal functioning of ISIL/Da’esh’s treasury. He also reiterated his support for the agreement between UNITAD and Iraq that allows the sharing of information concerning financial crimes committed as part of ISIL/Da’esh’s activities.

Meanwhile, the representative of Estonia said that the excellent work UNITAD could serve as an example of how impunity can be ended, and justice brought to victims through a holistic approach. Close coordination with Iraqi authorities must remain a priority for UNITAD, however. Such cooperation helps to facilitate the arrest of individuals who are believed to be active ISIL/Da’esh members, he stressed.

For his part, the delegate of China expressed regret that, after three years, and with a large amount of evidence, the Team’s work has yet to lead to concrete results in accountability. Pointing out that the Iraqi Government is the primary recipient of the evidence, he stressed that UNITAD must have consent from Iraq in sharing information with other States. As well, UNITAD is a temporary arrangement and should not become a permanent body, he said, adding that he hoped the next report will flesh out the Team’s completion strategy.

Iraq’s representative welcomed the renewal of UNITAD’s mandate until September 2022. He also emphasized that his Government is prepared to take further actions to pursue those responsible for crimes committed by ISIL/Da’esh, as well as those who provided financial, logistical or cyber support, or who have helped trade in antiquities to help that group.

Highlighting the recent judgement of the German Higher Regional Court against a member of ISIL/Da’esh, he underscored the need to ensure accountability and to move from the collection of evidence to the extradition of people to Iraqi justice. Recalling that the sixth report had openly stressed that the progress made and the evidence gathered would make it possible to prosecute those responsible in Iraq, he expressed hope that concrete measures will be taken to transfer the evidence to the Iraqi Government so that trials can commence.

Also speaking were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Viet Nam, Kenya, France, Ireland, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Norway, Tunisia, India and the United States.

Source: UN Security Council