Permanent Representative Underlines that Government Will Determine Further Use of Any Evidence Uncovered on Case-by-Case Basis
Witness testimony has revealed countless abuses committed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), a senior United Nations counter-terrorism official told the Security Council today as he delivered his first-ever briefing on behalf of the investigative team recently established by the 15-member organ.
“As ISIL has been driven from its strongholds, the scope and magnitude of its heinous acts have become ever more clear,” said Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by ISIL/Da’esh (UNITAD). Briefing on the contents of UNITAD’s first report, he recalled that the Investigative Team’s creation was a unanimous response by the Council to help the Government of Iraq hold members of ISIL/Da’esh accountable.
Outlining the preparatory work that UNITAD has undertaken since its formal launch in August, he went on to note that its members were deployed to Baghdad in October to lay additional groundwork. The framework for the Investigative Team’s activities entails developing standing operating procedures on the collection, preservation and storing of evidence and material as well as safeguarding chains of custody and ensuring the protection of witnesses, he explained.
UNITAD’S proposed budget ‑ now under consideration by the General Assembly ‑ will facilitate a streamlined organizational structure and the Investigative Team’s adherence to international standards. “This organizational structure is completed by a lightweight mission support mechanism that draws upon existing United Nations assets in-country to ensure the maximum focus of resources where it is needed,” he said. He expressed hope that the Assembly will approve the proposed budget in the coming weeks.
As the floor opened for discussion, many Council members called upon UNITAD to coordinate with authorities in Iraq and other actors on the ground, and to ensure full respect for that country’s sovereignty. The representative of the Netherlands said UNITAD must establish an effective working relationship with the Government and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), placing survivors and victims at the centre of its work. UNITAD’s ability to build relationships with affected communities, especially women, will be crucial, she observed.
Echoing that sentiment, the United Kingdom’s representative also underlined the importance of cooperating closely with, and ensuring respect for, the Government of Iraq. “It is crucial that we get these early stages right,” she said. Echoing the Special Adviser’s call for more voluntary contributions to UNITAD’s trust fund, she said the United Kingdom has already donated to that mechanism and will continue to support it.
Also pledging to support UNITAD’s work, the representative of the United States nevertheless stressed that “money alone will not ensure effective evidence collection”. As such, he called for a balanced and accurate account of events in order to ensure justice for all those in Iraq who suffered unspeakable crimes.
While agreeing that crimes perpetrated by ISIL/Da’esh must be punished, the Russian Federation’s representative emphasized that such a responsibility lies with the State in which those crimes were committed. Moreover, resolution 2379 (2017) calls for UNITAD to implement its operations with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and jurisdiction, he observed.
In that context, Iraq’s representative pointed out that UNITAD’s working mechanism focuses on full respect for national jurisdiction. As such, the Investigative Team will collect evidence that will eventually be used in fair and independent criminal proceedings conducted by competent Iraqi courts, he said, underlining that the Government will determine any further use of such evidence on a case-by-case basis. Calling for Member States to support UNITAD fully, he said such support must include financial assistance, services and equipment.
Several speakers expressed condolences to the Government and people the United States following the death of former President George H.W. Bush.
Also speaking were representatives of Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, France, Poland, Sweden, China, Peru, Ethiopia, Bolivia and Côte d’Ivoire.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:04 p.m.
KARIM ASAD AHMAD KHAN, 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), briefed Council members on the contents of his first report (document S/2018/1021) ‑ as mandated by resolution 2379 (2017) — recalled that the Investigative Team was established as a unanimous response by the Council to help the Government of Iraq hold Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) members accountable. “As ISIL has been driven from its strongholds, the scope and magnitude of its heinous acts have become ever more clear,” he said, adding that witness testimony has revealed countless abuses against thousands of civilians.
Outlining the UNITAD’s preparatory efforts since its formal launch in August, he said they will provide a solid platform for its investigative work in early 2019. Members were deployed to Baghdad in late October to lay additional groundwork, he noted, emphasizing that UNITAD is guided by two key imperatives: the need to operate as an independent, impartial and credible accountability mechanism with the highest possible standards; and the need to ensure that its work with the Government of Iraq is carried out in a collaborative and cooperative manner, with full respect for national sovereignty. “These imperatives are not paradoxical,” he said, stressing that they are opposite parts of a scale that must be balanced. The framework for the Investigative Team’s activities entails developing standard operating procedures for collecting, preserving and storing evidence and other materials as well as safeguarding chains of custody and protecting witnesses, he added.
Detailing other logistical arrangements, he went on to outline the UNITAD’s efforts to work with other United Nations counter-terrorism entities and to recruit staff, stressing the importance of including professional Iraqi personnel. Absolute adherence to United Nations policies and best practices is also critical. The Investigative Team has prioritized cooperative relationships with the Government of Iraq and with a multitude of religious groups, regional governmental entities, non-governmental bodies and other key national stakeholders, he said, recounting his own recent meetings with senior Government officials, survivors and civil society groups. He added that he also met members of the Christian, Shia, Sunni, Turkmen, Kakai and Yazidi communities, stressing: “There is no hierarchy of victims.”
Productive discussions are under way between UNITAD and the Steering Committee designated by the Government of Iraq, and with relevant national security actors, he continued, recalling that last week he met with the Prime Minister, who expressed strong support for the Investigative Team’s work. Outlining priorities identified for 2019 on the basis of those preparations, he underlined the need to complete key infrastructural elements, including the Investigative Team’s premises and technological equipment; to finalize standard operating practices; to collect and analyse existing documentary and testimonial evidence and identify gaps; and to establish its capacity to conduct safe, targeted, field-based investigative activities.
He went on to state that he will provide the Council with updates on those key tasks in May 2019, while underlining that their successful completion will depend not only on the Council’s historical unity, but also on continued international support. The Investigative Team’s proposed budget – now under consideration by the General Assembly – will facilitate a streamlined organizational structure that will enable it to conduct its work in accordance with international standards. “This organizational structure is completed by a lightweight mission support mechanism that draws upon existing United Nations assets in-country to ensure the maximum focus of resources where it is needed,” he said, expressing hope that the Assembly’s 193 Member States will approve the proposed budget in the coming weeks. He also welcomed any supplementary funds from the voluntary trust fund established for that purpose.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) welcomed the Investigative Team’s “very good start”, emphasizing that justice and accountability for victims must be at the centre of its work. Also welcoming the support of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for the Investigative Team, she underscored the need for full complementarity on the part of all teams working on the ground. “It is crucial that we get these early stages right,” she said, stressing the importance of close cooperation with, and mutual respect for, the Government of Iraq. Echoing the Special Adviser’s calls for more voluntary contributions to UNITAD’s trust fund, she said the United Kingdom has already donated to that mechanism and will continue to support UNITAD as it carries out its crucial mandate.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), also pledging to support UNITAD’s important work, stressed “history has shown that swift and effective evidence collection” after an atrocity is committed makes it much more likely that the perpetrators can be held accountable. Recalling the recent discovery in Iraq of mass graves containing the bodies of some 12,000 victims of ISIL/Da’esh, he emphasized the importance of supporting the team now tasked with investigating them. In that regard, the United States will contribute $2 million to UNITAD’s trust fund, he announced, calling upon other Member States also to provide support. “Money alone will not ensure effective evidence collection,” he said, calling for a balanced and accurate account of events in order to ensure justice for all those in Iraq who suffered unspeakable crimes. Independence and impartiality are essential to UNITAD’s credibility, as are its close cooperation with UNAMI and civil society groups on the ground, he said, emphasizing, in addition, that the Investigative Team’s work must be matched with measures to support the families of victims and survivors. “Justice is never beyond reach,” he stressed.
GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said there can be no double standards in the delivery of justice, emphasizing that, while crimes perpetrated by ISIL/Da’esh must be punished, that responsibility lies with the States in which those crimes were committed. Moreover, Security Council resolution 2379 (2017) calls for UNITAD operations to be implemented with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and jurisdiction, he added, pointing out that evidence collected by the Investigative Team will be leveraged by Iraq’s judicial system and other entities. Unfortunately, the views of relevant States are rarely accounted for in such a thorough manner, he said, recalling that the architect of a similar mechanism established for Syria did not engage in dialogue with Damascus. Cautioning UNITAD’s leadership against any contact with that illegitimate mechanism, he emphasized that its operations must be conducted transparently and in accordance with international law. Whereas ISIL/Da’esh has been dealt a devastating blow, he noted, it remains active in a host of Iraqi provinces where it mounts asymmetrical attacks, and as such, the Russian Federation will continue to deliver assistance to Iraq and to shore up its army.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands), noting the contribution of her country’s Government to UNITAD, encouraged other Member States to follow suit. UNITAD must establish an effective working relationship with the Government of Iraq and UNAMI, placing survivors and victims at the centre of its work. UNITAD’s ability to build relationships with affected communities, especially women, will be crucial, she said, emphasizing that the evidence gathered by UNITAD should only be used in prosecutions that are in compliance with the highest international legal standards, and that there must be no application of capital punishment.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) described UNITAD’s creation as a “victory for humanitarian justice” and for the principle of providing reparations to victims. It is also a deterrent to future terrorism, he said, expressing hope that perpetrators will be brought to justice in accordance with Iraqi law. Recalling that Kuwait stood alongside Iraq throughout its fight against terrorism, he said that it provided logistical support and convened meetings of the international coalition deployed to combat terrorism. In 2017, Kuwait held a crucial conference in support of Iraq’s reconstruction, he said, adding that States, civil society representatives and private sector participants contributed some $30 billion in pledges and investments.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) described the unanimous adoption of Security Council resolution 2379 (2017) as a testament to the international community’s support for the fight against terrorism. Data obtained by UNITAD will be used to analyse and preserve reliable evidence for the prosecution and punishment of ISIL/Da’esh members, he observed, expressing support for its intensive preparatory work. Highlighting the importance of ensuring adequate protection and support in order to allow the voices of victims to be heard, he welcomed the intention to create a specialized group to protect victims and witnesses. Member States should ensure that UNITAD is provided with the necessary expertise and resources to collect evidence of crimes committed against women and children, including sexual and gender-based violence, he stressed. Calling for an updated and revamped regional approach to the complex problem of international terrorism, he noted that such a strategy would ensure the responsibility of the entire chain of terrorist groups.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said UNITAD’s first report reflects the complexity of the task at hand while demonstrating the Investigative Team’s strategic vision. Noting that ISIL/Da’esh has operated with impunity in broad swaths of Iraq, committing grave violations of international law and international humanitarian law, he highlighted the discovery of 200 mass graves containing the remains of thousands of people. As such, the international community must grant UNITAD all necessary support for its work, including the required infrastructure, financing and other resources. Moreover, its work should be carried out in cooperation with other international agencies operating in that area, he added.
SHERAZ GASRI (France) pointed out that President Emmanuel Macron recently championed the fund established by Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad and will also contribute to the fund for the reconstruction of Sinjar, a region particularly affected by the actions of ISIL/Da’esh. In 2019, France will host the follow-up conference to the Paris Action Plan, which will include an important component for combating impunity. Calling upon UNITAD to recruit international personnel reflecting gender diversity, she also expressed support for the steering committee established by the Government of Iraq. Noting that the Investigative Team is tasked with collecting evidence that can lead to judicial rulings, she called upon UNITAD to consider that victims need access to justice. Iraq has managed to secure a military victory over ISIL/Da’esh, but it is now important to deliver on inclusive governance, with international assistance.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) stressed the importance of justice for victims of atrocities committed by terrorist groups, citing the need to hold perpetrators accountable, conduct investigations, and to collect and analyse evidential material. Including Iraqi personnel in UNITAD will increase the effectiveness of its work and enhance support for its activities among the Iraqi population, he said. Recognizing the need to ensure geographic diversity as well as gender, ethnic and religious balance while appointing Iraqi personnel, he said that will increase UNITAD’s capabilities in collecting evidence among various communities terrorized by Da’esh. He commended the intention to establish a unit to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses, and stressed the need for special attention to sexual and gender-based crimes in prosecuting Da’esh fighters. He also underlined the importance of investigating violations and abuses committed against children, while cautioning against penalizing women and children of Da’esh families who have no links to the group. Finally, he expressed concern about statements made by another Council member today about the credibility of the Independent Investigative Mechanism in Syria, stressing that there is no basis to question that instrument’s legality.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said children with perceived or actual association with ISIL/Da’esh are victims first and foremost, emphasizing the crucial need to establish a specialized victim and witness protection unit. UNITAD must be adequately equipped with the necessary expertise and resources so that it can effectively gather evidence of the for crimes that ISIL/Da’esh committed, including sexual and gender-based violence. The rule of law and Iraq’s legal system must be strengthened, both in the long-term and in carrying out current legal processes against suspected ISIL/Da’esh members, encouraging the Iraqi authorities to put national legislation in place to ensure that perpetrators of international crimes are tried in Iraq in full accordance with due process and the rule of law.
WU HAITAO (China) noted that, with Iraq in a crucial phase of its development and reconstruction processes, terrorism continues to pose a serious threat within the country, as well as across the region and the world. Taking note of UNITAD’s first report to the Council, and welcoming its efforts to protect victims, ensure cooperation with UNAMI and avoid any duplication of efforts, he expressed hope that the Investigative Team will continue to act in strict adherence to the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and in close consultation with the Government of Iraq. The collection and analysis of existing evidence, as well as the conduct of field-based investigations, should be top priorities, he said. Underlining that UNITAD must fully respect Iraq’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory, he added that unified global standards are required to effectively combat the increasingly complex terrorist threats confronting the international community.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru), recalling that his country was among the co-sponsors of resolution 2379 (2017), underscored the importance of ensuring its full impartiality and independence. It must be guided by both the United Nations Charter and international law, including human rights law, he said. Urging the international community to provide the Investigative Team with all the resources it needs to conduct its work, he said UNITAD - as well as the Iraqi authorities and civil society groups - must maintain fluid cooperation in accordance with the terms of reference laid out by the Council. Moreover, UNITAD’s efforts must be fully consistent with the work of all relevant United Nations bodies, including the sanctions committees mentioned in resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015), respectively, and the Counter-Terrorism Committee. Fighting impunity is critical to more effective efforts to combat the global terrorist threat, he stressed.
HAILESELASSIE SUBBA GEBRU (Ethiopia) described the adoption of Council resolution 2379 (2017) as an appropriate response to the Iraqi Government’s request for assistance to ensure accountability for the crimes committed by members of ISIL/Da’esh. Ethiopia supports the establishment of an investigative team to support that Government’s efforts by collecting and preserving evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, he said. Given the magnitude of the challenges confronting it, Iraq will need appropriate technical support and capacity building, he added.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) encouraged UNITAD to develop close ties with the Government and people of Iraq, noting that the new Government must grapple with the transition from a conflict situation, involving rebuilding and reconciliation. ISIL/Da’esh is still capable of launching asymmetrical attacks, he observed, noting the discovery of more than 200 mass graves containing the remains of 12,000 victims. He encouraged UNITAD to work with Iraq’s Government in collecting evidence to help the relevant investigations and judicial proceedings to move forward. He also called for the creation of a genetic database to allow for the exhumation and identification of remains, and for measures to protect and assist survivors and witnesses. UNITAD must also work closely with the Council’s various subsidiary bodies, he said, reiterating that it must respect Iraq’s sovereignty.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, emphasizing that the discovery of some 200 mass graves containing 12,000 bodies in areas of Iraq recently liberated from ISIL/Da’esh is a testament to that group’s cruelty and the urgent need to investigate its crimes. Despite recent military setbacks, ISIL/Da’esh continues to threaten Iraq and the entire international community, he said, noting that its newest tools include the diversification of financial resources, the use of social media for recruitment and the manipulation of local tribes. Against that evolving backdrop, there is a need to fine-tune the global response to terrorism, he said. Welcoming the restructuring of the United Nations counter-terrorism architecture as an important part of that effort, he spotlighted the Council’s own responsibility in that regard as well as that of regional and subregional organizations. Côte d’Ivoire, for its part, stands committed to working alongside multilateral and bilateral partners in continuing to combat the scourge of terrorism, he said.
MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq), commending the efforts of the co-sponsors of resolution 2379 (2017), said his country is relying on UNITAD’s work, and the Government has taken the necessary steps and measures to facilitate it. Calling upon the international community to unify efforts to confront and contain the phenomenon of international terrorism, he said UNITAD’s working mechanism focuses on full respect for Iraq’s jurisdiction and, as such, it will collect evidence that will eventually be used in fair and independent criminal proceedings conducted by competent Iraqi courts. Iraq’s Governments will determine any further use of that evidence on a case-by-case basis, he emphasized. Turning to the issue of the death penalty, he said it is premature to discuss that matter, emphasizing that Iraq will practise its sovereign right in that regard. Judicial proceedings will be carried out in accordance with the law, considering the rights of defendants. He went on to cite provisions of resolution 2379 (2017) reaffirming that UNITAD will make every effort to share knowledge and assistance with the Government. Member States must provide appropriate legal assistance and build the capacity to strengthen Iraq’s courts and judiciary, he said, calling also for their full support of UNITAD. It must include financial assistance, services and equipment, he said, expressing appreciation in that regard, for the contributions of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Qatar to the trust fund, as well as the pledge announced by the United States.