Iraq: UNITAD Mandate Renewal*
Tomorrow (17 September), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) for one year. UNITAD’s current mandate expires on 18 September.
UNITAD was established by resolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 for an initial period of two years. Its mandate was renewed for one year by resolution 2490 of 20 September 2019 before being renewed for a further year by resolution 2544 of 18 September 2020. When UNITAD was first created, the Council asked the Secretary-General to establish an investigative team to support Iraq’s domestic efforts to hold the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh) accountable for international 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”. UNITAD, which formally began its work on 20 August 2018, is also responsible for promoting accountability globally for atrocity crimes committed by ISIL.
According to resolution 2379, further extensions of UNITAD’s mandate may be requested by Iraq “or any other government that has requested [UNITAD] to collect evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, committed by ISIL (Da’esh) in its territory”. In a 16 September letter to the Council president, the Iraqi foreign minister requested the renewal of UNITAD’s mandate for another year.
The UK, the penholder on UNITAD, shared a first draft of the resolution on 14 September. During negotiations, India proposed including language in the preambular paragraphs on the development and use of chemical weapons against civilians by ISIL. It seems that India made this suggestion because UNITAD’s most recent report (S/2021/419), which was issued in May, indicated that UNITAD had opened a new investigation into ISIL’s use of chemical and biological weapons. India apparently withdrew its proposal after one Council member expressed the view that there was not enough time to reach consensus on this issue before the expiry of UNITAD’s current mandate. The UK then placed the original draft under silence until the evening of 15 September. Silence was not broken, and the draft was put in blue.
The draft resolution retains UNITAD’s mandate, as set out most recently in resolution 2544, and renews it until 17 September 2022. Apart from amendments to relevant dates and document numbers, two minor changes have been made to the text: the preambular section refers to resolution 2544, and a paragraph requesting that the Secretary-General align the term of UNITAD’s Special Adviser with the term of its mandate, which was included in resolution 2544, has been deleted. The draft resolution is otherwise identical to resolution 2544.
The first Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, who was appointed on 31 May 2018, served in this role until June, when he left UNITAD to become the Prosecutor of the ICC. On 7 September, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Khan’s successor, Christian Ritscher. Prior to joining UNITAD, Ritscher served as a Federal Public Prosecutor at the German Federal Court of Justice, where he worked on international and domestic prosecutions and investigations. Ritscher was also head of Germany’s S4 war crimes unit, which seeks to investigate and prosecute individuals in Germany who may have committed international crimes elsewhere, including in Iraq and Syria. In this capacity, Ritscher prosecuted alleged members of ISIL who were accused of committing genocide against the Yazidi community in Iraq in 2014.
*Post-script: On 17 September, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2597, which renewed UNITAD’s mandate until 17 September 2022.