June 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 June 2024
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Expected Council Action   

In June, 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). Acting Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD Ana Peyró Llopis is expected to brief the Council.  

UNITAD’s final mandate expires on 17 September 2024.   

Background and Key Recent Developments   

The Council established UNITAD through resolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 for an initial period of two years. It has since renewed the mechanism annually, most recently through resolution 2697 of 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 2023, UNITAD and Iraqi authorities announced the establishment of a joint working group to study the issue further. While seeking a comprehensive solution, UNITAD and Iraqi authorities have also pursued initiatives to facilitate information-sharing in specific areas, for instance relating to UNITAD’s analytical reports and case assessments and the evidence it has collected of ISIL’s financial crimes. 

Despite these efforts, Iraq sent a letter to the Council prior to UNITAD’s most recent mandate renewal in September 2023 requesting that the renewal be 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 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 a report setting out recommendations for implementing this request “with full respect for the sovereignty of Iraq”. That report, dated 15 January, urged UNITAD to provide to Iraqi authorities all evidence originally received from them—which constitutes the majority of the team’s holdings—as digitalised and managed, as well as any other evidence “that it is in a position to share”. In this regard, the report emphasised that all evidence sharing should still be consistent with the team’s terms of reference, including UN best practice, which the report said remains “applicable”. 

The report also described challenges that UNITAD’s drawdown poses for future accountability efforts. One concern is the preservation and management of the team’s collected evidence. The UN Secretariat will assume responsibility for UNITAD’s materials upon the team’s closure—including copies of records shared with Iraq, as well as other evidence—but the Secretariat is not currently in a position to guarantee, within existing resources, that the evidence will be preserved in accordance with international criminal law standards and remain usable for future judicial proceedings. In addition, the report underscored the importance of maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of the evidence, particularly as it concerns the consent, privacy, and security of witnesses and other sources. To address these challenges, the report recommended establishing a secure evidence repository within the Secretariat to preserve the evidence in a manner that guarantees the chain of custody, integrity, and reliability of data, which would require additional budgetary resources. The report also emphasised Iraqi authorities’ need for ongoing capacity-building to effectively manage and use the digitalised evidence that they receive. 

Resolution 2697 additionally requested the Special Adviser to transmit to the Council a roadmap for the completion of the team’s mandate and necessary steps for its closure. According to that report, dated 14 March, UNITAD has been actively sharing with Iraqi authorities the team’s work related to major investigations, including finalised case assessments and analytical reports relating to ISIL’s crimes against the Yazidi community in Sinjar, its crimes against the country’s Christian community, the Tikrit Air Academy massacre, and the Badush prison attack. By the end of its mandate, UNITAD expects to hand over preliminary case assessments on crimes against other minority communities, as well as thematic reports on ISIL’s delegated committee—known as Diwan al-Jund—and on the group’s sexual and gender-based crimes. All disclosed products will be accompanied by underlying evidence and will be “redacted as necessary”. 

The report also highlighted several remaining challenges. It described the process of preparing findings for disclosure as time-consuming, as it requires strict coding and redactions to uphold source consent. Additionally, the report underscored the need for Iraq to establish its own evidence management system, which is a resource-intensive endeavour. Furthermore, UNITAD’s capacity-building efforts, such as training for forensic and judicial personnel, are heavily reliant on extrabudgetary funds that will be returned to donors once the team’s mandate ends. Against this backdrop, the report outlined additional steps that UNITAD could achieve if its mandate were extended an additional year, which the report said would ensure a smoother transition with regard to evidence management, capacity-building, and support to third-country investigations, in turn strengthening the sustainability of efforts to promote accountability for ISIL’s crimes. 

At the Council’s June briefing, Peyró Llopis—whom Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed on 2 April to succeed former Special Adviser Christian Ritscher—will present the team’s 12th and final biannual report, which was circulated to Council members on 28 May but was not yet publicly available at the time of writing. The report provides a general overview of UNITAD’s accomplishments over the course of its mandate, as well as an update on drawdown preparations. According to the report, UNITAD has collected a total of 40 terabytes of evidence, stored and analysed in a centralised digital archive; pursued ten investigations spanning both thematic and incident-related lines of enquiry, resulting in numerous case assessment and analytical reports; and supported judicial proceedings in 20 third-country jurisdictions, resulting in 15 convictions. The team initiated its drawdown and liquidation plans in April for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq by the end of its mandate, coordinating with Iraqi authorities and relevant UN departments to ensure the preservation of evidentiary materials. The team has continued efforts to transfer evidence to the Iraqi judiciary in a digitised format, in line with its terms of reference and international criminal law standards, while providing additional technical assistance to Iraqi authorities to develop their own digital evidence management system. On 1 June, the team will begin preparing its holdings for transfer to the UN Secretariat, in line with the Secretary-General’s report of 15 January, and based on an archiving plan currently under development to ensure that all records are adequately preserved for future use. The report concludes by emphasising the importance of continuing global accountability efforts for ISIL’s crimes to ensure that the stories and memories of survivors and victims are preserved. 

Women, Peace and Security 

On 8 April, the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) met on the situation in Iraq. UNAMI Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance Claudio Cordone briefed. According to the summary of the meeting, issued on 8 May by Sierra Leone and Switzerland as the IEG co-chairs, together with the UK as the penholder on WPS, Council members asked questions about women’s political participation, violence against women, and monitoring and reporting by UNAMI of harassment and attacks against women human rights defenders. Members also inquired about accountability for atrocities perpetrated by ISIL against women and girls, including what will happen to the evidence collected by UNITAD once its mandate ends. According to the meeting summary, UNITAD is working to share analytical products with the Iraqi government, such as “briefs with legal and factual findings”, including a brief on sexual and gender-based crimes committed against the Shia Turkmen community as well as an updated brief on crimes against the Yazidi community, including sexual and gender-based violence. Among other issues, the summary also reports that there has been a “campaign on social media and by political actors” in Iraq “against the use of the word ‘gender’, seen as associated with the promotion of LGBTQI issues” with serious consequences for women civil society leaders and activists, including several actors working on women’s rights suspending their activities for fear of reprisal. 

Key Issues and Options   

As UNITAD’s mandate draws to a close, the key issue for the Council is to support efforts to ensure an orderly drawdown that preserves the team’s work for future efforts to hold ISIL/Da’esh responsible for its crimes. Important aspects in this regard include developing an evidence management system that allows the UN Secretariat to store the team’s holdings properly for future investigations, in line with international criminal law standards; continued capacity-building for Iraqi authorities to help them effectively store, analyse, and use shared evidence for domestic prosecutions; and engagement with third-party countries to support prosecutions in their jurisdictions. The June briefing is an opportunity for Council members to learn more about these activities and how the Council may facilitate further progress. 

Council members could also consider inviting a civil society representative to brief on the impact of UNITAD’s closure on victims of ISIL’s crimes and other affected communities.  

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 Algeria, China, and Russia—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, Iraq and like-minded Council members exerted increasing pressure to mandate the team to promptly share its evidence holdings. Prior to the last renewal in September 2023, Iraq agreed to request only one final extension, on this condition. Given their diverging interpretations of UNITAD’s evidence-sharing obligations, however, Council members reached a compromise by requesting the Secretary-General to provide recommendations on how to implement Iraq’s request, as outlined above.  

The UK is the penholder on UNITAD.   

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Security Council Resolution
15 SEPTEMBER 2023S/RES/2697 This resolution extended UNITAD’s mandate for a final one-year non-extendable term, until 17 September 2024.
Secretary-General’s Report
15 JANUARY 2024S/2024/20 This was the Secretary-General’s report containing recommendations on ways for UNITAD to share its collected evidence with Iraqi authorities, which was requested by resolution 2697 of 15 September 2023.
Security Council Letters
14 MARCH 2024S/2024/238 This letter transmitted to the Council a road map for the completion of UNITAD’s mandate and necessary steps for its closure, requested by resolution 2697 of 15 September 2023
16 NOVEMBER 2023S/2023/882 This letter transmitted the 11th report of the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.

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