8675th Security Council Meeting: Threats to International Peace and Security

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26-Nov-2019 01:34:26
Victims’ testimony steering United Nations team investigating ISIL/Da’esh atrocity crimes in Iraq, Special Adviser tells Security Council at 8675th meeting.

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Testimony from victims of terrorist crimes in Iraq — including mass murder, abductions and sexual slavery — is now steering the work of a newly operational United Nations investigative team, its chief told the Security Council today, while also outlining a range of forensics and other tools being used to build cases against perpetrators.

Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), known as UNITAD, told the 15-nation Council that communities across Iraq are courageously relaying stories of unspeakable treatment to the Team’s investigators. Spotlighting UNITAD’s mandate to identify criminal perpetrators for prosecution under Iraqi law, he said victims are willing to “re-live hell on earth” in order to preserve evidence and achieve justice. “It is our responsibility to honour their strength by delivering on the promise […] that those who inflicted their suffering will be held accountable,” he stressed.

A renewed sense of common purpose followed the unanimous renewal of UNITAD’s mandate at the request of the Government of Iraq in September, he continued, adding that the Team is now fully operational and actively collecting documentary, digital, testimonial and forensic evidence. Methods include forensic scanning of crimes scenes, the documentation and digitization of evidence and ballistics analysis, as well as efforts to retrieve DNA profiles from the remains of victims in mass grave sites. Noting that several individual ISIL/Da’esh members have been identified as primary investigative targets, he said work is underway to build case-files for presentation to Iraqi courts. “Our capacity to demonstrate continued value to Iraqi counterparts, and the people of Iraq more broadly, will be essential,” he said.

Kachi Amo Saloh, a member of Iraqi civil society, speaking by video-teleconference from Iraq, recounted his personal experience as a survivor of mass executions which had been carried out in his Yazidi village located in Sinjar District. It was there, in August 2014, that ISIL/Da’esh overwhelmed the town and separated the men and women. The men were then killed in a mass shooting. He escaped from a pile of dead bodies that included three of his brothers. His elderly step-mother was also executed, along with other older women, and his wife and daughters taken to a slave market and sold. His three-month-old daughter died of thirst and hunger.

“I can still hear my wife and daughters screaming,” he said, describing the lingering psychological effects on survivors. Thanking the Council for creating UNITAD to establish accountability for such crimes, he nevertheless said that prosecuting those responsible is not enough. The international community must also acknowledge that the crimes committed against the Yazidi community amount to genocide. The Council must support the Team and work to prevent similar crimes in the future, he stressed, adding: “I survived by God’s will to be a witness.”

As Council members took the floor, many expressed their strong support for UNITAD’s work and praised efforts to translate the international community’s many condemnations of war crimes into concrete action. Several also hailed the exemplary cooperation of the Government of Iraq — under whose jurisdiction the investigations fall — as well as that of the Kurdistan Regional Government and local communities. However, some delegates cautioned that all of UNITAD’s work, and any other efforts carried out by international partners in Iraq, must fully respect the principles of national sovereignty and criminal jurisdiction.

France’s representative was among those speakers who welcomed strides made by UNITAD while calling for the full recognition of victims and the application of the highest standards of protection for them. She emphasized the need to ensure that the Team abides strictly by United Nations principles and not transmit any cases to jurisdictions where there is a chance that the death penalty will be applied. Meanwhile, the Council must remain mobilized to prevent any resurgence of ISIL/Da’esh, she said.

The representative of the Dominican Republic, echoing many of those points, also joined speakers who praised a number of legal strides made by Iraq at the national level. Those include the introduction of new legislation that will allow for the prosecution of crimes committed by terrorist groups, including war crimes and genocide.

Kuwait’s representative added his full support for UNITAD, whose mandate is critical in the fight against terrorism. Among other things, the Team deters future crimes by setting out lessons to potential perpetrators. Emphasizing that eradicating terrorism is an international responsibility, he described Kuwait’s own counter-terrorism activities and expressed hope that all countries will intensify cooperation in that endeavour — including the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters.

While praising UNITAD’s work, Côte d’Ivoire’s representative also noted that the Team continues to face many challenges on the ground. Spotlighting the transnational character of the activities of ISIL/Da’esh as one example, he urged partners to strengthen cooperation in order to allow relevant crimes to be covered by the Iraqi legal arsenal. Efforts to translate the condemnation of war crimes into concrete action are crucial and they go beyond the case of Iraq. There must be a renewed focus on socioeconomic development, which will help to prevent radicalization, he stressed.

Iraq’s representative welcomed the renewal of UNITAD’s mandate by the Council at his Government’s request and praised the Team for its work to date. Following the military defeat of terrorist groups in Iraq, strong international support is needed to rebuild what was destroyed, prosecute war crimes and thwart any future attacks. Calling on countries around the globe to monitor airports, dry up sources of terrorist funding and end the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, he added he agreed with other speakers that UNITAD’s work must be built on the principle of respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and its jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory. “Perpetrators must be brought to Iraqi justice,” he stated, emphasizing: “We must turn this page as quickly as possible.”

Throughout the meeting, delegates also conveyed their condolences to the Government and people of France, following the death of 13 soldiers in a 25 November helicopter crash in Mali.

Also speaking were the representatives of the United States, Germany, Peru, South Africa, China, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Belgium, Poland, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:38 a.m.

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