What's In Blue

UNITAD Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (10 December), the Security Council will hold a briefing via videoconference (VTC), followed by VTC consultations, on the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD). Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, is expected to brief.

Through resolution 2379 of September 2017, the Council mandated the Secretary-General to establish an investigative team (UNITAD) 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”. Among other tasks, the investigative team is responsible for promoting accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL and to counter ISIL narratives that have led people to join the terrorist group.

On 18 September, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2544, which extended the mandate of UNITAD until 18 September 2021.

In his briefing, Khan is expected to present the main findings of the 11 November report of the Secretary-General on UNITAD’s recent activities (S/2020/1107). He may note the various challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed for the field-based activities of UNITAD, including travel restrictions and difficulties in engaging with the main national partners. In this environment, UNITAD has continued to adapt and introduce innovative solutions, including the use of videoconference and digital technology to collect evidence and hear from the most vulnerable witnesses.

Khan is expected to update the Council on the status of current investigations into attacks against the Yazidi community in Sinjar and other parts of Iraq. The report notes that the investigative unit is opening a new line of inquiry into crimes committed by ISIL in the Mosul area between 2014 and 2016. UNITAD has also pursued investigations related to crimes committed against other minority communities in Iraq.

The report emphasised the importance of developing close partnerships with national actors throughout Iraq and indicated that there has been further progress in this regard. In October, the Iraqi parliament began considering legislation that would establish a legal basis for the prosecution of members of ISIL for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. This legislation also offers a channel through which evidence collected by the team may be used in such proceedings, in accordance with resolution 2379. In this context, Khan has continued to engage with key stakeholders in Iraq to consider possible prospects of this domestic initiative for holding ISIL accountable for its crimes.

During the reporting period, UNITAD has worked closely with authorities in Iraqi and in the region of Kurdistan on various capacity-development initiatives for Iraqi investigative judges. The team has been working with the local authorities to digitise and archive evidentiary material that will be crucial for organising evidence to support criminal cases against ISIL.

Council members—as well as the Iraqi government—are generally supportive of UNITAD, as shown by the unanimous support for the renewal of its mandate this September. Members whose national jurisdictions do not have the death penalty remain concerned 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 believe 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 repatriate their nationals to prosecute them, leading to criticism that they are outsourcing their legal obligations. Some members also continue to emphasise the need to include in the Iraqi national legal system the international crimes that UNITAD is mandated to investigate.

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