Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is scheduled to receive a briefing from Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD).
UNITAD’s mandate expires on 21 September 2020.
Key Recent Developments
UNITAD was set up through resolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 for an initial period of two years and was renewed for another year in resolution 2490 of 20 September 2019. The Council had asked the Secretary-General to establish an investigative team to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) accountable for crimes it committed in the country “by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”. Additionally, the investigative team is responsible for promoting accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL in order to counter ISIL narratives that have led people to join the terrorist group. On 31 May 2018, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Karim Asad Ahmad Khan as Special Adviser and head of UNITAD. The investigative team formally began its work on 20 August 2018. To date, the Special Adviser has published four reports.
According to resolution 2379, UNITAD is to be “impartial, independent, and credible”, operating within its terms of reference, the UN Charter, UN best practices and relevant international law, including international human rights law. The investigative team has an assessed budget of around $21 million for 2020, covering core infrastructure and staffing needs. Additionally, it relies on voluntary contributions made to the trust fund established by resolution 2379, and on in-kind contributions, including the provision of expert personnel. Current contributors to the trust fund are Cyprus, Denmark, the EU, Germany, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Qatar, Slovakia, the UK, the United Arab Emirates, and the US. Commitments to contribute to the trust fund currently amount to about $5 million.
UNITAD’s overall staff stands at 148, representing all of the UN’s regional groups. Women make up 49 percent of substantive and support positions and Iraqi nationals constitute more than one-third of professional staff. Expert personnel from Australia, Finland, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Sweden are currently provided by their respective governments. According to the Special Adviser’s report, more states have expressed an intention to second personnel.
As required by resolution 2379, UNITAD is implementing its mandate according to “UN best practices”, meaning that no evidence may be shared for criminal proceedings where capital punishment may be imposed. The death penalty, however, is incorporated into the Iraqi legal system. The international crimes the investigative team is mandated to investigate are not yet incorporated into Iraq’s domestic legal system, moreover, and are prosecuted as terrorist crimes. Iraq is currently working on legislation that would establish a tribunal for the prosecution of ISIL for international crimes, with UNITAD supporting that process.
The investigative team’s implementation strategy entails three areas for investigation: the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy (also known as “Camp Speicher”) in June 2014, attacks committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district in August 2014, and crimes committed by ISIL in Mosul between 2014 and 2016. UNITAD’s investigations are focusing on those ISIL members who bear the greatest responsibility among the leadership as well as regional and mid-level commanders. According to the Special Adviser’s fourth report, progress has been made regarding these areas, with some parts of the investigations “now in a phase of evidentiary consolidation and legal analysis”.
The report describes further progress made by UNITAD during the 180-day reporting period. The investigative team was able to expand its evidentiary sources, which is described as a “significant success”. UNITAD’s evidentiary data lake now contains 23.9 terabytes of data. Digital forensics has “the potential to represent a paradigm shift in the prosecution of ISIL members”, according to the report. The Special Adviser stresses the urgency of obtaining and preserving physical evidence and digital imagery from crucial crime scenes as reconstruction efforts in the country are accelerating. The investigative team was also able to open two more investigative units in the field, bringing the number of field units to five. The new units will be able to investigate crimes against the Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak, Shi’a, Sunni, and Turkmen communities. Regarding the investigative team’s Baghdad facilities, a new section has been built for interviewing detainees. Legal counsel for the detainees is accessible. UNITAD has also established a website.
The protection of survivors, victims and witnesses, including child witnesses and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, remains one of the central aspects of UNITAD’s work: UNITAD’s Witness Protection and Support Unit provides psychosocial support to trauma victims, for example.
The Special Adviser continues to engage academia, community leaders, Iraqi authorities, the Kurdistan Regional Government, non-governmental organisations, religious actors and leaders, and survivor groups.
Resolution 2379 says that Iraqi authorities are “the primary intended recipient” of evidence collected by UNITAD. So far, no evidence has been shared with Iraqi authorities, but discussions around evidence transmission are ongoing. The resolution also refers to the possibility that evidence collected by the investigative team could complement “investigations carried out by authorities in third countries at their request”. The investigative team is currently supporting cases in five countries. UNITAD has received a further five formal requests from states as well as indications by other states that they intend to request support.
On 6 March, Iraqi religious leaders representing the Christian, Kaka’i, Shi’a, Sunni and Yezidi communities adopted the Interfaith Statement on the Victims of ISIL. The statement, the first of its kind, calls for concerted action to hold ISIL perpetrators criminally responsible and rejects ISIL’s ideology.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the work of UNITAD. Work on two exhumations in Mosul had to be temporarily suspended. In Kocho, which lies in the Sinjar district, the return of remains of identified victims from mass graves to their families has also been temporarily halted.
On 12 May, the Council held an open videoconference (VTC) and closed VTC on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The Special Representative and head of UNAMI, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, briefed. Support for UNITAD is part of UNAMI’s mandate. On 29 May, Council president Estonia announced the unanimous adoption of resolution 2522, renewing the mandate of UNAMI until 31 May 2021.
Key Issues and Options
The Council will keep monitoring UNITAD’s activities. In case the Council decides to hold the June briefing as a closed VTC only, Council members may aim to issue press elements in keeping with the latest agreement by Council members on working methods, which indicates that the Council president will work towards issuing press elements after every closed VTC meeting.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are generally supportive of UNITAD, as is the Iraqi government. Members whose national jurisdictions do not have the death penalty continue to be concerned about the possibility that evidence shared by the investigative team with the Iraqi authorities might be used in criminal proceedings in which the death penalty could be imposed. Other members are of the opinion that the use of the death penalty is Iraq’s sovereign right, a point routinely emphasised by Iraq as well. Another issue frequently raised by some members is the prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters currently on Iraqi soil. Some of the governments concerned have been reluctant to take back their nationals in order to prosecute them, leading to criticism that they are outsourcing their legal obligations.
The UK is the penholder on UNITAD.
UN DOCUMENTS ON IRAQ
|Security Council Resolutions|
|20 September 2019S/RES/2490||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 21 September 2020.|
|21 September 2017S/RES/2379||This resolution established an investigative team tasked with collecting, storing and preserving evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 November 2019S/PV.8675||This was the Council’s third briefing by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.|
|20 September 2019S/PV.8624||The Council unanimously adopted resolution 2490, renewing the mandate of UNITAD until 21 September 2020.|
|15 July 2019S/PV.8573||This was the Council’s second briefing by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.|
|4 December 2018S/PV.8412||This was the Council’s first-ever briefing by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD).|
|21 September 2017S/PV.8052||This was the adoption of resolution 2379.|
|Security Council Letters|
|15 May 2020S/2020/397||This was a briefing on Iraq.|
|11 May 2020S/2020/386||This was from the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, transmitting the fourth report on the activities of UNITAD.|
|13 November 2019S/2019/878||This was from the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, transmitting the third report on the activities of UNITAD.|
|19 September 2019S/2019/760||This transmitted a letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, requesting the extension of UNITAD’s mandate until 21 September 2020.|
|17 May 2019S/2019/407||This was the second report of the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.|
|15 November 2018S/2018/1031||This letter transmitted the first report of the Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh (UNITAD).|
|15 August 2018S/2018/773||This was a letter from the Secretary-General, notifying the Council that the Investigative Team on Iraq/ISIL accountability will begin its work on 20 August 2018.|
|9 February 2018S/2018/118||This was a letter from the Secretary-General to the Council containing the terms of reference for the investigative team to support domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable by collecting, preserving and storing evidence of war crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq.|