Investigative Team Making ‘Significant Progress’ Gathering Evidence to Prosecute ISIL/Da’esh for Atrocity Crimes in Iraq, Special Adviser Tells Security Council

SC/13882
15 July 2019
8573rd Meeting (AM)

Investigative Team Making ‘Significant Progress’ Gathering Evidence to Prosecute ISIL/Da’esh for Atrocity Crimes in Iraq, Special Adviser Tells Security Council

Documentary, digital, testimonial and forensic evidence is now being collected to prosecute members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) for their atrocity crimes committed in Iraq, the head of the United Nations investigation team reported today to the Security Council.

In the last two weeks alone, the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD) — established by Security Council resolution 2379 (2017) — gained access to more than 600,000 videos related to ISIL crimes, as well as over 15,000 pages of internal ISIL documents originally obtained from the battlefield by leading investigative journalists, said Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD, in his briefing to the 15-member organ.

Initial investigative work focused on three areas, he noted, citing attacks committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district in August 2014, crimes committed by ISIL in Mosul between 2014 and 2016, and the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014.

“We have sought to ensure that the experiences and voices of survivors, witnesses and communities are placed at the centre of its work,” he said, noting that these survivors — Shia, Sunni, Yazidi, Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak and Turkmen — have all been impacted by the crimes of ISIL.

Stressing that the Investigative Team’s cooperation with the Government of Iraq has remained crucial in the delivery of its mandate, he said that tangible evidence of collaboration can be found in the collection of forensic material from mass grave sites.  Going forward, the Team’s work remains dependent on the continued support of the Security Council and the international community more broadly. 

Through engagement with victims, cooperation with national and regional actors and dialogue with religious bodies, two fundamental realities have been revealed, he said.  First, that the scale and barbarity of the crimes committed by ISIL have ultimately served not to divide but to unify.  Second, the ultimate success of the work of UNITAD will depend on the Investigative Team’s ability to draw on its independent, impartial status in order to harness this unity of purpose and make its work the product of a collective endeavour — a partnership between the Council, the victims and survivors of ISIL, national authorities and local actors, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions. 

Council members welcomed the work carried out so far by UNITAD, cooperation between the Investigative Team and the Government, as well as its engagement with survivors, witnesses, religious groups and local communities.

Equatorial Guinea’s representative said that the presence of more than 200 mass graves deserves nothing less than justice for the victims and accountability for those responsible.

The United States, its delegate said, will not waver in holding ISIL accountable for the unspeakable atrocities it committed and welcomes the rapid initiation of UNITAD’s activities.  Describing the appointment of Iraqi experts to the Investigative Team as critical for its success, she called on Member States to support UNITAD in the collection of crucial evidence “before it is too late” and on the Government of Iraq to give UNITAD the space it requires to operate effectively.

The speaker for Germany, emphasizing that the heinous acts of ISIL did not stop at Iraq’s borders, encouraged the Special Adviser to explore transnational cooperation as it pursues its investigations, welcoming steps taken by the Investigative Team and the Iraqi authorities to facilitate the transfer of evidence.  He also stressed the need for Iraq to incorporate provisions on international crimes into its national criminal law, calling on the Government to strengthen the rule of law in judicial proceedings.

France’s representative, recalling her country’s opposition to the death penalty, said evidence sharing must respect United Nations best practices and international standards.  Her counterpart from Côte d’Ivoire stressed that the differences in interpretation of Council resolution 2379 (2017), regarding the possibility of evidence collected by UNITAD leading to the application of the death penalty, must not affect the work of UNITAD.

Iraq’s delegate commended the work of UNITAD while asking the body to fully respect Iraq’s sovereignty and judicial process.  The evidence collected must be used fairly in proceedings conducted in competent Iraqi courts, he emphasized. 

Also speaking today were representatives of United Kingdom, Kuwait, Indonesia, South Africa, Russian Federation, China, Poland, Dominican Republic, Belgium and Peru.

The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:45 a.m.

Briefing

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) — established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2379 (2017) — said that the Investigative Team have sought to ensure that the experiences and voices of survivors, witnesses and communities are placed at the centre of its work.  These survivors — Shia, Sunni, Yazidi, Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak and Turkmen — have been impacted by the crimes of ISIL and their message has been clear:  ISIL must be held accountable for its crimes.  The call for accountability is not one of revenge, but of justice, which will stand the test of time.  UNITAD has made significant progress in implementing its mandate, with core staffing, facilities and evidence collection practices now in place.  It has 79 staff members in Iraq, including criminal investigators, analysts, witness protection experts and forensic scientists.  Fifty-five per cent are women.  Documentary, digital, testimonial and forensic material is now being collected.  Initial investigative work is focused on three areas:  attacks committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district in August 2014, crimes committed by ISIL in Mosul between 2014 and 2016, and the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014.

In the last two weeks alone, UNITAD gained access to more than 600,000 videos related to ISIL crimes relevant to investigative work, as well as over 15,000 pages of internal ISIL documents originally obtained from the battlefield by leading investigative journalists, he noted.  The Investigative Team’s cooperation and collaboration with the Government of Iraq and Iraqi national authorities has remained crucial in the delivery of its mandate.  UNITAD is also grateful for the strong support from the Kurdistan Regional Government during the last six months.  Tangible evidence of cooperation can be found in the collection of forensic material from mass grave sites, he said, stressing the importance of ensuring that his Team’s work complements ongoing domestic proceedings.  Going forward, its work remains dependent on the continued support of the Security Council and the international community more broadly.  The Trust Fund has been established to support the Team’s activities.

Through engagement with victims, cooperation with national and regional actors and through dialogue with religious bodies, two fundamental realities have been revealed, he said.  First, that the scale and barbarity of the crimes committed by ISIL have ultimately served not to divide but to unify.  The call for individual ISIL members to be held accountable, and for their crimes to be recognized and prosecuted as offences under international law, has been urgent and clear.  The courage and strength seen across religious groups, regional borders and political divisions in denouncing ISIL crimes, and the willingness of those most impacted to come forward to provide their accounts, has demonstrated the absolute failure of ISIL to sow division among the people of Iraq or to intimidate them into silence.  Second, it is understood that the ultimate success of the work of UNITAD will depend on the Investigative Team’s ability draw on its independent and impartial status in order to harness this unity of purpose, to make its work the product of a collective endeavour — a partnership between the Council, the victims and survivors of ISIL, national authorities and local actors, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions.  “It is only through such unity, and through our common recognition of the scale and gravity of the crimes committed by ISIL, that meaningful accountability can be achieved,” he concluded.

Statements

SUSAN JANE DICKSON (United Kingdom), welcomed the Investigative Team’s positive engagement with the Government of Iraq and encouraged it to redouble its efforts to ensure the greatest possible use of evidence from domestic judicial proceedings.  Doing so would be a remarkable step forward in promoting accountability for victims.  She looked forward to planned excavations in Mosul and the operationalization of remaining field units.  Emphasizing that reconciliation, reconstruction and accountability are crucial, she urged the Investigative Team to share further details of its strategy going forward as well as any challenges it is facing.  She went on to urge all United Nations bodies in Iraq to work collaboratively, share technical expertise and avoid re-traumatizing victims of Da’esh.  The United Kingdom will contribute an additional £1 million to UNITAD, bringing its total contribution to £2 million.

CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), emphasizing that her country will not waver in holding ISIL accountable for the unspeaking atrocities it committed against all Iraqis, welcomed the rapid initiation of UNITAD’s activities as well as the Council’s support for its mandate, expressed during its trip to Iraq last month.  Describing the appointment of Iraqi experts to the Investigative Team as critical for its success, and noting the United States’ contribution of $2 million to its work, she called on Member States to support UNITAD in the collection of crucial evidence “before it is too late”.  She called on the Government of Iraq to give UNITAD the space it requires to operate effectively, emphasizing that independence and impartiality is critical going forward.  Iraq needs accountability and reconciliation to begin recovering from the trauma that ISIL inflicted on all Iraqis, she said, underscoring the importance of Iraq working through a law-based process to hold ISIL perpetrators and collaborators accountable.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), recalling the Council’s meeting with the Special Adviser during its recent visit to Baghdad, said the mechanism created by resolution 2379 (2017) — which requested the Secretary-General to establish an independent investigative team to support domestic efforts to hold Da’esh accountable for its actions in Iraq — aimed to uphold human justice and ensure redress for victims of that group.  He welcomed the degree of cooperation between UNITAD and the Government of Iraq in line with the former’s mandate, adding however that much remains to be done.  Da’esh remains a threat to the Middle East as a whole and must be countered in a flexible manner through international efforts to dry up its sources of financing while addressing the root causes of violent extremism.  He went on to reiterate Kuwait’s solidarity with Iraq in combating terrorism and ensuring accountability.

TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) reiterated its support for UNITAD, also expressing concern about the complex challenges facing the Investigative Team.  Noting that ISIL’s crimes are prosecuted by Iraqi national authorities, he stressed the need to address the crimes committed by ISIL outside Iraq.  In this regard, judicial cooperation between Governments is essential to hold ISIL accountable for crimes wherever they were committed.  He noted the importance of UNITAD’s impartiality and involvement of women in investigations.  His delegation welcomed efforts to map the command structure of ISIL and the establishment of a witness protection programme.  It is also important to smooth out the differences in interpretation of Council resolution 2379 (2017) regarding the possibility of evidence collected by UNITAD leading to the application of the death penalty.  This difference must not affect the work of UNITAD, he said, calling for the mobilization of the entire United Nations system and all stakeholders and for increased international cooperation to combat terrorism and organized crimes.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said accountability is critical to delivering on the Council’s aims of reconciliation and sustaining peace.  Noting that Indonesia will support the Investigative Team’s work as long as it is consistent with the agreed mandate and framework, he said that, in the case of ISIL/Da’esh, “the hard work of healing the wounds left on Iraqi society is just beginning”.  The people and Government of Iraq must now turn their attention to reconciliation and building a State that represents all Iraqis, while protecting and supporting survivors.  Emphasizing that States bear the primary responsibility to protect all communities within their borders from mass atrocity crimes, he said the primary jurisdiction for ensuring accountability in Iraq must lie with that country’s authorities.  Against that backdrop, the Investigative Team should operate with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, he said.

JOSEPH EDWIN HAYDN DAVIES (South Africa) said that UNITAD’s role as an impartial, independent, and credible body, operating within the United Nations Charter, is vital in helping to uncover the atrocities committed and bring to justice their perpetrators.  UNITAD’s role is invaluable in sending a clear and unequivocal message that the international community under the leadership of the United Nations will not sit by idly and allow the barbaric crimes committed by ISIL to go without accountability.  Commending the immense progress it has made, he also expressed his Government’s support for the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said that UNITAD’s work is an important part of the United Nations counter-terrorism strategy.  ISIL still poses a serious threat to international peace and security.  Promoting accountability must be done as effectively as possible.  Noting that the Special Adviser enjoys the support of key stakeholders, including Iraqi authorities, he stressed that investigations must be carried out in full respect of sovereignty of those States where ISIL committed crimes.  This principle underpins resolution 2379 (2017), which established the Investigative Team.  Welcoming that UNITAD’s work has progressed to documenting evidence in Iraq, he also stressed the need to hold repatriating foreign terrorist fighters accountable.  He urged the Special Adviser not to give in to politically motivated moves, reminding him that UNITAD’s mandate is to support national authorities in holding ISIL accountable for the crimes it committed.  He urged the Investigative Team to work in impartial, transparent manner.

ANDREAS JOSEF GLOSSNER (Germany), emphasizing that the heinous acts of ISIL did not stop at Iraq’s borders, encouraged the Special Adviser to explore transnational cooperation as it pursues its investigations.  He welcomed steps taken by the Investigative Team and the Iraqi authorities to facilitate the transfer of evidence.  He also emphasized the need for Iraq to incorporate provisions on international crimes into its national criminal law.  Evidence gathered by the Investigative Team must only be used in prosecutions that comply with international legal standards, he added.  This disqualifies the use of such evidence if capital punishment cannot be excluded, he said, calling on the Government of Iraq to strengthen the rule of law in judicial proceedings against possible ISIL perpetrators to allow for fair and impartial procedures and effective and timely judicial review, including access to legal assistance.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) urged the international community to sustain its strong cooperation with the Government of Iraq, stating that the fight against terrorism is far from over.   Noting that many foreign terrorist fighters and their families remain in Iraq, he said China supports Iraq in bringing terrorists to justice in line with relevant domestic laws.  Welcoming the work of the Investigative Team so far, he said China hopes it will maintain close cooperation with the Government as well as UNAMI in ensuring accountability and preventing a resurgence of terrorism.  UNITAD should earnestly carry out its work in strict compliance with resolution 2379 (2017) while fully respecting Iraqi sovereignty and jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland), emphasizing that accountability must be based on solid evidence, said advances in putting the Investigative Team’s mandate into operation — including the excavation of a dozen mass grave sites — are encouraging.  He called on all stakeholders to support UNITAD and provide it with any assistance it may need.  The composition of the Investigative Team should reflect the diversity of Iraq, thus increasing its ability to collect evidence.  He welcomed the appointment of Sallama Hasson Al Khafaji as UNITAD’s chief of national engagement and support, in addition to progress made towards the collection and storage of evidence and the protection of witnesses.

MARIE-LAURE CHARRIER (France) acknowledged UNITAD’s efforts in establishing a high-quality team of experts that gives equal place to women.  The Council’s visit to Iraq enables its members to reaffirm their support for UNITAD and to come to grips with the challenges it faces.  Justice must be done for victims of the most serious crimes committed by Da’esh in all parts of Iraq, she said, encouraging the Investigative Team to carry out its work independently and to work with all stakeholders.  Recalling her country’s opposition to the death penalty, she said evidence sharing must respect United Nations best practices and international standards.  She underscored France’s cooperation with the Special Adviser and his team and encouraged other States to do so as well.  She went on to commend Iraq’s determination to combat impunity and to incorporate that principle into its reconstruction and reconciliation efforts, stating that that approach is key for preventing a resurgence of Da’esh.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said his delegation was pleased with the initial phase of UNITAD’s work, welcoming the cooperation between the Investigative Team and other stakeholders, including national and local authorities and communities.  Expressing hope that this collaboration will continue and be strengthened, he said that it is important that UNITAD has a fully functioning investigative team.  Welcoming the excavations of mass graves in March and April, he stressed the need to pay special attention to survivors of gender-based violence.  In this regard, he emphasized the need to provide protection for survivors and witnesses, welcoming the creation of a witness protection strategy.  The Team and the Iraqi Government should also treat minors who are family members of the ISIL fighters as victims, not as perpetrators.  While fulling respecting the sovereignty of Iraq, the regional and international community must help Iraq build national capacity, especially judicial expertise.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea) highlighted the importance of resolution 2379 (2017), as ISIL committed all types of gross violations, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  The presence of more than 200 mass graves deserves nothing less than justice for the victims and accountability for those responsible.  He welcomed the establishment of the Investigative Team and its efforts to set up strategies to fulfil its mandate, including field visits to establish contacts with national authorities, survivors, religious groups and other stakeholders.  Collecting evidence and managing data is a challenging task, which will be tested, he said, welcoming the contribution of experts by Member States to UNITAD and calling for strengthening cooperation between the Iraqi Government and the Investigative Team.

MARC PECSTEEN BE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), emphasizing that Da’esh remains a major threat, said the work of the Investigative Team so far has been very encouraging.  Belgium has full confidence in the ability of Mr. Khan and his team to carry out their mandate rigorously.  On evidence sharing, he stated that the Investigative Team will, as an independent and impartial United Nations mechanism, abide by the Organization’s policies and good practices as well as with international law.  This dovetails with the practices of international tribunals and mechanisms established by the United Nations with regard to procedural guarantees, victim and witness protection, and non-imposition of the death penalty.  He went on to say that Belgium will examine, in the spirit of resolution 2379 (2017), ways to share its expertise with Iraq in judicial capacity-building.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for July, reaffirmed Peru’s support for the Investigative Team in implementing its mandate in an impartial and independent manner, in line with the United Nations Charter and relevant norms of international law.  He welcomed cooperation between the Investigative Team, the Government of Iraq and the diverse sections of Iraqi society, including survivors and local communities.  He also acknowledged the support provided by UNAMI and the emphasis that is being placed on forensic analysis and exhumations.  While evidence now being collected is important for the Iraqi authorities, it should be available to other States that might request it.  Underscoring the need to provide the Investigative Team with the resources it requires to carry out its work, he said Da’esh remains a latent threat that is assuming new forms and that the Investigative Team’s success will act as a deterrent to new crimes while also strengthening the rule of law.

MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq) commended the work of UNITAD as well as its high level of cooperation with the Government of Iraq.  His Government is committed to facilitating the work of UNITAD.  In carrying out its mandate, the Investigative Team must fully respect Iraq’s sovereignty and judicial process, he said, stressing that the evidence collected must be used fairly in proceedings conducted in competent Iraqi courts.  Calling for technical support of the international community to build national capacity, he also welcomed UNITAD’s strong partnerships with survivors and local communities, including field visits by the Special Adviser.  Iraq has revised legislation on criminalizing minors to bring it in line with modern standards, while establishing domestic courts for minors.

For information media. Not an official record.