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ISIL/Da’esh Accountability: Council to Renew UNITAD

Tomorrow (20 September), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), which expires on 21 September.

UNITAD Draft Resolution

The penholder on UNITAD, the UK, circulated the first draft on 13 September, receiving comments from China and Russia. A revised draft passed silence on 19 September. Council members are generally supportive of UNITAD, as is the Iraqi government. The negotiations were reportedly uncontentious, and a unanimous adoption is expected.

The draft resolution to be adopted is short, with the six preambular paragraphs taken almost verbatim from resolution 2379 establishing UNITAD two years ago. The operative part consists of four paragraphs.

The first operative paragraph reaffirms resolution 2379 and recalls UNITAD’s terms of reference (S/2018/118). It seems that China and Russia would have preferred a verbatim reference to UNITAD’s mandate as opposed to a general reference to resolution 2379. This suggestion was not included in the revised draft, however.

The second operative paragraph takes note of a letter sent by Iraq requesting the extension of UNITAD and decides to extend UNITAD for a year, until 21 September 2020, in line with the referenced Iraqi letter. It also echoes resolution 2379 by reiterating that any further extension may be requested by Iraq “or any other government that has requested the Team to collect evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, committed by ISIL (Da’esh) in its territory”.

The third operative paragraph requests the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD “to continue to submit and present reports to the Council on the team’s activities, every 180 days”. It appears that the first draft circulated by the UK had increased the frequency of the Special Adviser’s briefings to the Council to 120 days. It had further requested the Special Adviser to update the Council orally every six months, which has been the practice so far. It seems that China and Russia preferred to retain the original language from resolution 2379. The draft for adoption reverts to that language.

Background on UNITAD

UNITAD was set up through resolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 for an initial period of two years, following a request by the Iraqi government. 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, UNITAD is tasked to promote accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL in order to counter ISIL narratives that have encouraged people to join the terrorist group. UNITAD is characterised by resolution 2379 as “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.

Karim Asad Ahmad Khan’s appointment as Special Adviser and head of UNITAD was announced by the Secretary-General on 31 May 2018, and UNITAD formally began its work on 20 August 2018. In line with the 90-day deadline set out in resolution 2379, the first report (S/2018/1031) was published on 16 November 2018, and Khan briefed the Council for the first time on 4 December 2018 (S/PV.8412). Resolution 2379 established a 180-day reporting cycle and requested the Special Adviser to present his reports to the Council. Khan’s second briefing took place on 15 July.

In late December 2018, the Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly approved a 2019 budget of just over $19.5 million for UNITAD. Apart from these assessed contributions, UNITAD continues to rely on voluntary contributions made to the trust fund established by resolution 2379. According to Khan’s second report, contributors to the trust fund are Cyprus, the Netherlands, Qatar, Slovakia, the UK, and the US. The countries who have committed to providing expert personnel are Germany, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and Turkey. Resolution 2470, renewing the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), maintains support for the work of UNITAD as a part of its mandate.

UNITAD’s implementation strategy entails three initial areas for investigation, with monthly benchmarks for progress. The three areas are: 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, and the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy (also known as “Camp Speicher”) in June 2014. 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.

The international crimes that UNITAD is mandated to investigate are not incorporated into the domestic legal system of Iraq and are currently prosecuted as terrorist crimes.

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