On September 12, 2023, over 40 organizations working on the Yazidi genocide raised their concerns about the news that the mandate of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh/ISIL (UNITAD) may not be renewed beyond September 2024. UNITAD was established by way of a U.N. Security Council resolution 2379 in 2017 which mandated it to “collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by [Daesh] in Iraq.” The crimes refer to the genocidal campaign of Daesh perpetrated against Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq with a litany of atrocities, including murder, enslavement, deportation and forcible transfer of populations, imprisonment, torture, abduction of women and children, exploitation, abuse, rape, and sexual violence. As per the resolution, the evidence obtained is to be used “before national courts, and complementing investigations being carried out by the Iraqi authorities, or investigations carried out by authorities in third countries at their request.” The resolution also raises the possibility that the newly established team could collect evidence of Daesh atrocities in countries other than Iraq. Nevertheless, any such request would first need to be approved by the U.N. Security Council.
Over the years, UNITAD has been regularly updating the U.N. Security Council about the progress of its work. For example, in May 2021, UNITAD briefed the U.N. Security Council on its finalized two case briefs related to attacks committed by Daesh against the Yazidi community in Sinjar in August 2014 and the mass killing of unarmed Iraqi air force cadets from Tikrit Air Academy (Camp Speicher) in June 2014. Among others, UNITAD identified 1,444 suspected perpetrators responsible for the attacks against the Yazidis, including 14 members deemed most responsible for the atrocities classified as war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide. UNITAD further identified 20 members of Daesh most responsible for the attack on Camp Speicher. In addition, UNITAD finalized an initial case brief on companies and individuals involved in the financing of the Daesh atrocities and initiated investigations into the Daesh’s atrocities against prisoners in Badush Prison in Mosul in June 2014 and against Shia Turkmen, Shabak, Kaka’i, and Christian and Sunni communities. UNITAD has also been working with prosecutors in 14 countries, assisting their work in bringing Daesh members to justice.
In June 2023, UNITAD informed the U.N. Security Council about its work on several case assessments, including on the development and use of chemical weapons by Daesh, on gender-based crimes and crimes against children, crimes committed against the Sunni community in Al-Anbar, and the attacks against the Christian communities in Ninewa. UNITAD further updated on its work with the Iraqi judiciary on enhancing the capacities of Iraqi judges, ongoing joint case-building, and the digitization project, which has led to the digitization of 8 million pages of Daesh documents from the holdings of the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities.
Considering the last five years of its work, it is clear that UNITAD is doing crucial work to ensure justice and accountability for the atrocities of Daesh and it delivers results. As such, it is highly concerning that UNITAD may cease to exist in 2024. As raised by over 40 organizations in their letter commenting on the news, “many survivors … see UNITAD as the only hope to achieve meaningful justice in Iraq. For its work to stop so abruptly, when not a single [Daesh] member has been tried in Iraq for core international crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes), would be a disaster for survivors, Iraq, and the international community. It would send the signal that justice is not a real priority, that trust with survivors was built for nothing and that their testimonies and continuous calls for justice were in vain.” They further added that “this news is all the more alarming since Iraq currently has no legal framework in place to use UNITAD’s evidence and also has no experience prosecuting international crimes. Furthermore, Iraq has not communicated any plan or strategy on how it is planning to move this process forward without UNITAD’s expertise. Nor has Iraq recognized the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court or responded to detailed proposals submitted by survivor groups to establish a hybrid tribunal to prosecute [Daesh] members for international crimes.”
The organizations called to renew UNITAD’s mandate beyond September 2024, prepare a strategy to prosecute Daesh crimes holistically both in Iraq and other jurisdictions, support Iraq in adopting a legal framework to prosecute core international crimes and establish a survivor-centered mechanism which would allow for such prosecutions, and ensure that UNITAD supports Iraq in the prosecution of Daesh crimes in Iraq until Iraq is able to follow fair trial rights and implement a survivor-centered mechanism.
Victims and survivors and organizations working with them should be consulted on this step. They spend years working with UNITAD, establishing trust and sharing some of the most herrowing testimonies of pain and suffering. This cannot be for nothing. If we are to put victims and survivors first, we must listen to them and hear them.