The United Nations team that is assisting Iraq to investigate atrocities committed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) is making “significant progress” in gathering evidence with the potential of marking a paradigm shift in the prosecution of members of the terrorist group, its chief told a Security Council videoconference meeting* on 15 June.
Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General 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), delivered that assessment as he briefed the Council on its fourth report (document S/2020/386). Speaking a week after the sixth anniversary of ISIL’s occupation of Mosul, he said that the Team — “working with creativity and focus” — is sustaining the momentum of its work, despite challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am pleased to inform the Council that this [reporting] period has been marked by significant progress in the identification and collection of new sources of evidentiary material which, if fully harnessed, has the potential to mark a paradigm shift in the prosecution of ISIL members for the crimes they have committed in Iraq,” he said. Through close cooperation with the Iraqi judiciary, the Team has obtained more than 2 million call‑data records from Iraqi cell phone service providers for its investigation into crimes committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community in Sinjar district in 2014, he said. Similar data has been obtained relating to the mass killing by Da’esh against unarmed cadets at Tikrit Air Academy, also in 2014. With support from Iraq’s judiciary, Iraqi cell phone providers have agreed to preserve all call‑data records from 2014 relevant to UNITAD’s investigations, “preserving a potentially crucial source of evidence on ISIL crimes,” he said.
Through collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, the Team has also gained access to digital evidence from mobile phones, laptops and other electronic devices seized from ISIL, revealing information about the group’s inner workings in Mosul, he added. The use of 3D laser scanning and modelling at key crime sites — including mass graves in Sinjar and Mosul — has meanwhile enabled the Team to develop virtual‑reality frameworks that can help survivors re-engage with their memories of events and provide detailed evidence. UNITAD has also created its own evidence management system that responds to the specific demands of its work in the field and allowing prompt responses to enquiries from Iraqi authorities.
He went on to report progress into crimes against the Yazidi community in Sinjar, including the identification of 344 alleged Da’esh perpetrators across 16 crime scenes. Evidence collected from mass grave excavations, testimony from survivors, witnesses and detainees, and an increase digital and documentary evidence base are supporting the development of in-depth case files relating to priority suspects. He added that the Team has identified at least seven categories of crimes relating to the Tikrit Air Academy killings for which Da’esh suspects could be prosecuted. In Mosul, meanwhile, two new mass grave excavations that started in March in cooperation with Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government authorities, will form a key pillar of investigations in the coming months.
He emphasized that there is “no hierarchy of victims” in UNITAD’S work as it addresses crimes committed by Da’esh against all communities in Iraq. He also applauded the Government of Iraq’s steadfast support and noted the appointment of an initial group of national criminal law experts to the Team, a development that strengthens UNITAD’s ability to respond to the specificities of Iraq’s domestic criminal framework. In the same vein, he said that he presented a strategy paper in April to the Government laying out a path for putting ISIL members on trial in Iraq for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, in a manner consistent with the Team’s terms of reference. He concluded by saying that, while UNITAD has made real progress in the 20 months since it arrived in Iraq, “we must not allow our focus to shift”. It is not enough to simply create an archive or historical record of ISIL crimes. “Our commitment to the communities of Iraq will only be satisfied when justice is delivered in court, when the survivors of ISIL atrocities are able to see their abusers held accountable in accordance with the rule of law based on incontrovertible evidence collected in line with international standards.”
Also participating in the meeting was the representative of Iraq.
* Based on information received from the Security Council Affairs Division.