December 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 November 2023
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Expected Council Action  

In December, the Council will receive the biannual briefing from the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL in Iraq (UNITAD). Special Adviser and head of UNITAD Christian Ritscher is expected to brief the Council. 

UNITAD’s final mandate expires on 17 September 2024.  

Background and Key Recent Developments  

The Council established UNITAD throughresolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 for an initial period of two years. It has since renewed the mechanism annually, most recently withresolution 2697of 15 September 2023, which renewed the team for a final one-year non-extendable term. UNITAD is mandated to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh) 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”. The collected evidence is intended to support investigations carried out by Iraqi authorities or by authorities in third countries at their request.  

Resolution 2379 emphasised 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. 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 international crimes that UNITAD is mandated to investigate have not been incorporated into Iraq’s legal system. As a result, perpetrators in Iraq who have committed acts that contravene international criminal law are usually charged with terrorism offences. Under Iraqi law, the death penalty can be imposed for these offences, which has prevented UNITAD from sharing its evidence of ISIL’s potential violations of international criminal law with Iraq’s government—the primary intended recipient.  

In October 2020, a draft law that would incorporate international crimes into Iraq’s domestic legal system was proposed in the Iraqi parliament, but the legislation has not advanced since then. In March, UNITAD and Iraqi authorities announcedthe establishment of a joint working group to study the issue further. While seeking a comprehensive solution, UNITAD and the Iraqi authorities have also pursued initiatives to facilitate information-sharing in specific areas, for instance, with regard to ISIL’s financial crimes and requests to designate ISIL members under the 1267 ISIL/al-Qaida sanctions regime. 

Despite these efforts, prior to UNITAD’s most recent mandate renewal in September, Iraq sent a letter to the Council requesting the renewal of UNITAD’s mandate for a period of one year “without the possibility of extension”. The letter emphasised that during this period, the team “must turn over” all the evidence that it has obtained in Iraq since the start of its mandate. It also requested UNITAD not to share further evidence with third countries and to disclose to Iraqi authorities the evidence that the team has previously shared.    

Consequently, resolution 2697 extended UNITAD’s mandate until 17 September 2024 “only”. It noted Iraq’s request for UNITAD to share its evidence with national authorities within this period and requested the Secretary-General to submit to the Security Council, by 15 January 2024, a report setting out recommendations for implementing this request “with full respect for the sovereignty of Iraq”. It also requested UNITAD, with Iraq’s approval, to determine the modalities for evidence-sharing with third countries and to communicate to Iraq what previous evidence has been shared. Finally, it requested UNITAD to develop, by 15 March 2024, in consultation with Iraq, a roadmap for the completion of the team’s mandate and the necessary steps for the team’s closure. 

At the Council’s December briefing, Ritscher will present the team’s eleventh biannual report, which was circulated to Council members on 16 November but was not yet publicly available at the time of writing. The report says that UNITAD has “adjusted its priorities” in response to resolution 2697, “while continuing to deliver on core mandated tasks…in accordance with its Terms of Reference”. As a first step towards meeting the mandated requests, the report says that UNITAD has communicated to Iraqi authorities what evidence has previously been shared with third countries and that the parties have “successfully determined modalities” for such evidence-sharing. The report also notes that the UN Secretariat has instructed UNITAD to provide input to the Secretary-General’s report outlining recommendations for evidence-sharing between UNITAD and Iraqi authorities, and that the team will focus on developing the requested roadmap for the completion of its mandate during the next reporting period. More broadly, the report reiterates UNITAD’s “continued commitment to acting in full respect of the sovereignty of Iraq and to cooperating with Iraq throughout all stages of mandate implementation”, guided by Council resolutions, the team’s terms of reference, UN best practice, and “relevant international law, including international human rights law, notably the right to a fair trial and other due process provisions”. 

The report also describes progress in several investigative tracks. These include the preparation of a case assessment report on ISIL’s manufacturing and use of chemical weapons in Iraq, which was shared with Iraqi authorities; the preparation of a report on sexual violence committed by ISIL against women and girls, which was also shared; and updates to case assessments concerning several other files, such as ISIL’s financing; crimes perpetrated against Iraq’s Christian community; violence committed against the Yazidi community in Sinjar; and the massacre of unarmed military cadets at Tikrit Air Academy. The report notes UNITAD’s intention to share analytical and structural findings regarding these investigations with the Iraqi judiciary in the next reporting period, while shifting part of its focus to the preparation of an overarching preliminary report on ISIL’s destruction of cultural heritage and reports on ISIL crimes committed in Mosul, Tikrit, and Al Alam, as well as crimes committed against other minority groups in Iraq. 

The December briefing will take place in the context of continued military pressure against ISIL in Iraq. According to the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), covering developments from May to September, ISIL has continued to conduct asymmetric attacks—primarily in Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninawa, and Salah al-Din Governorates—while Iraqi security forces have continued counterterrorism operations in response to the terrorist group’s activity. A total of 178 attacks were attributed to ISIL/Da’esh during the first half of 2023, compared with 526 attacks during the first half of 2022. That figure was the lowest reported over a six-month period since Iraq declared victory over ISIL in December 2017, which the Secretary-General’s report says is “indicative of the overall decline in attacks attributed to the group”. 

Key Issues and Options  

The key ongoing issue is how the Council can continue to support UNITAD’s efforts to promote accountability for ISIL’s crimes in Iraq, which in turn contributes to the country’s security and political stability.  

At the December briefing, Council members are expected to welcome continued investigative progress and the completion or advancement of additional case files. Since the briefing will be the first to take place following the adoption of resolution 2697, members are also likely to express their expectations for the Secretary-General’s upcoming report recommending modalities for evidence-sharing with Iraqi authorities and UNITAD’s upcoming roadmap for the completion of its mandate, both of which will inform future Council action on the team’s drawdown.   

Council and Wider Dynamics  

Both the Council and the Iraqi government have been generally supportive of UNITAD. Since the team’s establishment, its annual mandate renewals have been requested by Iraq and unanimously adopted by Council members.   

The issue of evidence-sharing, however, has been a longstanding source of contention. Members who oppose the death penalty—such as France, Malta, Switzerland, and the UK—have been concerned about the possibility that evidence shared by the team with the Iraqi authorities might be used in criminal proceedings in which the death penalty could be imposed. Other members—such as China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates—have maintained that the use of the death penalty is Iraq’s sovereign right, a point Iraq has also emphasised.  

During negotiations over UNITAD’s mandate renewals—which the Council adopts at Iraq’s request—Iraq and like-minded Council members have exerted increasing pressure to mandate the team to promptly share its evidence holdings. Prior to the last renewal in September, Iraq agreed to request only one final extension, on this condition. Given their diverging interpretations of international human rights law and UN best practice, however, Council members reached a compromise by requesting the Secretary-General to provide recommendations on how to implement Iraq’s request.  

The UK is the penholder on UNITAD.  

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Security Council Resolution
15 SEPTEMBER 2023S/RES/2697  This resolution extended the mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL in Iraq (UNITAD) for a final one-year non-extendable term, until 17 September 2024.
Security Council Letter
22 MAY 2023S/2023/367 This letter transmitted the tenth report of the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.


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