What's In Blue

Posted Fri 7 May 2021

Da’esh/ISIL Accountability: UNITAD Briefing and Consultations via VTC

On Monday morning (10 May), the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by closed VTC consultations, on the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD). The Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, is expected to brief. A civil society representative might also brief.

UNITAD was established on 21 September 2017 by resolution 2379 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 assigned to promote accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL and to counter ISIL narratives that have led people to join the terrorist group.

Khan is expected to brief Council members on his sixth report (S/2021/419). It will be his last briefing to the Council in that role as Khan was elected to serve as prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and is expected to start his new position in mid-June. At the time of writing, a new Special Adviser and head of UNITAD has yet to been named.

Council members might be interested in hearing from Khan about developments related to the core investigative priorities of UNITAD. According to his sixth report, UNITAD finalised two case briefs related to attacks committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community in the Sinjar district in August 2014 and the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy (also known as “Camp Speicher”) in June 2014.

Regarding the attacks committed by ISIL against the Yazidi community, UNITAD was able to identify 1,444 suspected perpetrators. The case brief identifies the 14 ISIL members deemed most responsible, details their modes of liability, and characterises the crimes as either war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity. In relation to the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy, UNITAD was able to identify the 20 ISIL members bearing the greatest responsibility.

UNITAD also finalised an initial case brief on companies and individuals involved in the financing of ISIL’s activities.

Khan may also elaborate on progress in the investigation into crimes committed by ISIL against prisoners in Badush Prison in Mosul in June 2014 and against Shia Turkmen, Shabak, Kaka’i, and Christian communities. UNITAD has also opened investigations into crimes committed by ISIL against the Sunni community and ISIL’s purported use and development of biological and chemical weapons. According to the Special Adviser’s sixth report, UNITAD’s findings show “repeated successful deployments of chemical weapons by ISIL against civilian populations between 2014 and 2016”.

Council members might also like to hear more about UNITAD’s investigations into sexual and gender-based crimes and crimes committed against children. In his sixth report, the Special Adviser describes UNITAD’s analysis of the ways in which ISIL’s organs, policies and ideologies were used in the commission of such crimes. UNITAD has been focusing on the ISIL structures that implemented policies of conscription of boys and sexual enslavement of girls and women.

Khan is expected to describe UNITAD’s progress in the collection of documentary, digital and testimonial evidence, as well as in the excavation of mass graves and the related return of human remains. On 6 February, the remains of 103 members of the Yazidi community excavated from mass graves in Kojo village were returned to their families and buried. The process was supported by UNITAD.

Another possible topic of discussion at Monday’s meeting is the use of technology in support of the implementation of UNITAD’s mandate. Khan may note that during the reporting period of his latest report, construction of an evidence vault and a forensics laboratory was completed in Baghdad. This enhanced the Investigative Team’s capacity to analyse digital evidence and to conduct forensic analysis of recovered evidence.

UNITAD also continues to provide support and training to Iraqi authorities. Khan may elaborate on such projects, including the digitisation of 33,000 case files and related materials, which is underway in Mosul.

As required by resolution 2379, the Investigative Team is implementing its mandate according to “UN best practices”, meaning that no evidence may be shared for criminal proceedings in which capital punishment may be imposed. The death penalty, however, is incorporated into the Iraqi legal system. The international crimes UNITAD is mandated to investigate are not yet incorporated as such into Iraq’s domestic legal system. Acts falling under crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes are currently prosecuted as terrorist crimes. Draft legislation suggested by Iraqi President Barham Salih in November 2019 would amend the Iraqi High Tribunal Law; it is currently before the Iraqi parliament. The amendment would allow for the prosecution of ISIL members for international crimes. According to the sixth report of the Special Adviser, an arrangement with the Iraqi judiciary allows for evidence to be shared in relation to financial crimes, in line with UNITAD’s terms of reference.

At Monday’s meeting, Khan may also elaborate on the completion strategy for UNITAD, which is described in his most recent report.

Council members are generally united in their support of UNITAD and are likely to reflect this position in their statements during Monday’s meeting. 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. This aspect might feature in their statements. Other members are of the opinion that the use of the death penalty is Iraq’s sovereign right, a point routinely emphasised by Iraq as well.

According to resolution 2379 and the Investigative Team’s terms of reference, evidence may be shared in support of legal proceedings in other countries. To date, UNITAD has received requests for assistance for domestic proceedings from 14 states.

Another issue frequently raised by some members, including Russia and the US, is the prosecution of foreign terrorist fighters currently on Iraqi soil. Some governments have been reluctant to repatriate their nationals in order to prosecute them, leading to criticism that they are outsourcing their legal obligations. Some members are also expected to stress the need for the Iraqi national legal system to include the international crimes that UNITAD is mandated to investigate.

On Wednesday (12 May), Council members are expected to convene in person for an Arria-formula meeting titled “Delivering Accountability through Innovation and Partnership: Harnessing Technology to deliver justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”. The meeting—co-hosted by the UK (the penholder on UNITAD), Iraq and the US—is expected to focus on how technology can support accountability for international crimes by drawing on UNITAD’s experience.