Expected Council Action
In September, the Security Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD). UNITAD’s current mandate expires on 17 September.
Background and Key Recent Developments
UNITAD was established by resolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 for an initial period of two years. Since September 2019, UNITAD’s mandate has been renewed for one-year periods every September, most recently by resolution 2597 of 17 September 2021. According to resolution 2379, further extensions of UNITAD’s mandate may be requested by Iraq “or any other government that has requested [UNITAD] to collect evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, committed by [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or ISIL] in its territory”.
UNITAD’s terms of reference were approved by the Council in February 2018, and it formally began its work on 20 August 2018. Pursuant to its terms of reference, UNITAD is responsible for supporting Iraq’s domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable “by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by [ISIL] in Iraq, to the highest possible standards, to ensure the broadest possible use before national courts, and complementing investigations being carried out by the Iraqi authorities or investigations carried out by authorities in third countries at their request”.
UNITAD’s Special Adviser, Christian Ritscher, who was appointed on 7 September 2021, is responsible for developing its investigative strategy and promoting accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL.
Resolution 2379 emphasises that UNITAD should be “impartial, independent, and credible” and act consistently with its terms of reference, the UN Charter, UN best practice, and relevant international law, including international human rights law. UNITAD’s investigative priorities include the development and use of chemical and biological weapons by ISIL; 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; the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014; and crimes committed against the Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak, Shia Turkmen, and Sunni communities. Specialised thematic units are also investigating sexual and gender-based crimes, crimes against children, and the financing of ISIL.
Because UNITAD is implementing its mandate in accordance with “UN best practice”, it does not share evidence for criminal proceedings in which capital punishment could be imposed. At present, the atrocity crimes that UNITAD is mandated to investigate have not been directly incorporated into Iraq’s legal system. As a result, former or current ISIL members who have engaged in conduct that may amount to an atrocity crime are likely to be charged with terrorism offences. Under Iraqi law, the death penalty can be imposed for these offences, which has prevented UNITAD from sharing evidence it has collected with Iraqi authorities. Draft legislation incorporating atrocity crimes into Iraq’s legal system, which is partly designed to rectify this issue, was introduced into the Iraqi parliament in October 2020. The legislation has not yet been adopted.
During his 8 June briefing to the Council, Ritscher described several of UNITAD’s latest achievements and outlined progress in its different areas of investigation. He noted that an initial case brief regarding the financing of ISIL articulates how Bayt al-Mal, ISIL’s central treasury, provided vital financial support to ISIL, including by managing payments to units that allegedly committed international crimes. UNITAD also conducted field missions which, together with its engagement with affected communities and cooperation with Iraqi authorities, enabled it to collect and preserve evidence pertaining to the manufacturing and use of chemical and biological weapons.
Ritscher further informed the Council that UNITAD’s investigations have helped to produce dedicated case files and identify those most responsible for crimes against the Yazidi community and the personnel of Tikrit Air Academy. Regarding the status of atrocity crimes in Iraq’s legal system, Ritscher noted that there are ongoing discussions in Iraq about adopting the “necessary legal framework to deal with ISIL crimes as core international crimes before the Iraqi courts” and indicated that UNITAD is ready to provide technical advice to Iraqi authorities. Ritscher also highlighted the importance of the November 2021 landmark conviction of ISIL member Taha al-Jumaily for atrocity crimes in Germany.
On 15 June, UNITAD, Finland and Iraq hosted an event at UN headquarters in New York titled “The Pattern of Mass Killing: ISIL Crimes Against Tikrit Air Academy Personnel”. Speakers at the event included Ambassador Miia Rainne (Finland); Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr al-Uloom (Iraq); Ritscher; Yasser Al Khozaa’i, Investigative Judge at the Rusafa Court in Baghdad; and Sarhang Hamasaeed, the Director of Middle East Programs at the United States Institute of Peace. During the event, UNITAD presented a video that synthesised the testimonial, documentary, digital, and forensic evidence that it has collected regarding the crimes committed by ISIL in Tikrit.
Key Issues and Options
The primary issue for the Council is the renewal of UNITAD’s mandate. If Iraq continues to support UNITAD in its current form and requests an extension of the mandate, as is expected, then the Council will most likely renew the mandate without making any substantive changes.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are generally supportive of UNITAD and often commend it for different aspects of its work. Differences exist, however, regarding the interpretation of UNITAD’s mandate. Certain members, particularly those that have abolished capital punishment in their own legal systems, remain concerned about the possibility that evidence collected by UNITAD might be used in criminal proceedings in which the death penalty could be imposed and emphasise the need for Iraq to incorporate international crimes into its legal framework. Some of these members take the view that UNITAD’s mandate prevents it from sharing evidence with Iraqi authorities while there is still a possibility that this evidence would be used in cases that could result in the death penalty.
Others argue, however, that Iraq bears primary responsibility for determining how to prosecute those who have committed crimes on its territory and encourage UNITAD to share evidence with Iraqi authorities as soon as possible. These members tend to suggest that Iraq is intended to be the main recipient of evidence collected by UNITAD and often emphasise the importance of respecting Iraq’s sovereignty when it comes to pursuing accountability for international crimes.
The UK is the penholder on UNITAD.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UNITAD
|Security Council Resolution|
|17 September 2021S/RES/2597||This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 17 September 2022.|
|Security Council Letter|
|26 May 2022S/2022/434||This letter transmitted the eighth report of the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.|