Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/ISIL (UNITAD) - Security Council VTC Briefing

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10-May-2021 02:12:05
ISIL/Da’esh committed genocide of Yazidi, war crimes against unarmed cadets, military personnel in Iraq, investigative team head tells Security Council.

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Yazidi Survivor of ISIL Atrocities Nadia Murad Urges World Leaders to Act on Team’s Evidence, Prosecute Perpetrators, Stressing ‘Justice Is within Reach’

Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) committed genocide against the Yazidi and war crimes against unarmed cadets and military personnel at Tikrit Air Academy, the head of the United Nations team investigating these atrocity crimes told the Security Council today.

“A landmark moment has been reached in our work, with initial case briefs completed in relation to two key investigative priorities,” said 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 (UNITAD), in a briefing on the sixth report of the Team (document S/2021/419).

“I can confirm to the Council that based on our independent criminal investigations, UNITAD has established clear and convincing evidence that genocide was committed by ISIL against the Yazidi as a religious group,” he said, noting that the intent of ISIL to destroy the Yazidi, physically and biologically, is manifest in its ultimatum — applied remorselessly to all members of their community — to convert or die.

Thousands were killed pursuant to this ultimatum, either executed en masse, shot as they fled, or dying from exposure on Mount Sinjar as they tried to escape, he said, adding that thousands more were enslaved, with women and children abducted from their families and subjected to the most brutal abuses, including serial rape and other forms of unendurable sexual violence. For many, this abuse lasted years, often leading to death. The intent of these acts was to permanently destroy the capacity of these women and children to have children and build families within the Yazidi community.

Furthermore, the Team has established that numerous other international crimes were also committed against the Yazidi community, including extermination, enslavement, sexual violence, forcible transfer, persecution on religious and gender grounds, and conscription of children into an armed group, he added. “But let us not forget, these crimes are ongoing,” he warned, expressing the Team’s determination to ensure justice for all those impacted by these crimes.

Turning to the June 2014 attacks by ISIL on predominantly Shia unarmed air cadets and personnel from Tikrit Air Academy, he said the Team has compiled and analysed extensive evidence detailing their capture, torture and mass execution. Based on its independent investigative work, he said, “the Team has concluded that these acts constitute the war crimes of murder, torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity.” It has also concluded, based on clear and convincing evidence, that a Da’esh video — released in July 2015 showing these killings — constitutes a direct and public incitement to commit genocide against Shia Muslims. The narration glorifying the horrifying images of these mass executions contains a repeated and clear exhortation to ISIL followers: “Kill them wherever you find them.”

Information obtained from ISIL electronic devices has also led to the opening of a new investigation into the development and successful deployment of chemical and biological weapons by ISIL in Iraq, he said. Evidence collected to date details how ISIL used laboratories at Mosul University as the epicentre of its chemical weapons programme, drawing on the expertise of scientists and medical professionals from Iraq and abroad. Initially weaponizing chlorine from water treatment plants overtaken in 2014, ISIL subsequently developed toxic lethal compounds including thallium and nicotine that were tested on live prisoners, leading to death. As its capacity strengthened, it developed a sulfur mustard production system that was deployed in March 2016 through the firing of 40 rockets at the Turkmen Shia town of Taza Khurmatu.

This investigation is developing rapidly, with an initial case brief anticipated to be completed and available to national authorities within five months, he said. By the end of 2021, the Team also anticipates the completion of case briefs addressing crimes committed against Christian, Kaka’i, Shabak, Shia Turkmen and Sunni communities in Iraq, as well as the massacre of predominantly Shia inmates at Badush prison.

However, to fulfil the Team’s mandate and to meet the expectations of survivors, its work must be put before national courts to prosecute those responsible for the horrific crimes, he stressed. Arrangements have now been put in place with the Iraqi judiciary to transfer evidence collected by the Team concerning financial crimes committed in support of ISIL activities in Iraq. This represents an important initial step in ensuring that the Team’s work contributes tangibly to accountability efforts in Iraq, he noted.

Expressing support for efforts by the Iraqi Council of Representatives to adopt legislation establishing a legal basis for the prosecution of ISIL members in Iraq for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, Mr. Khan said this will be a further crucial step towards the delivery of comprehensive accountability for ISIL crimes in Iraq. In addition, legislation was presented before the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region to establish a court with jurisdiction over international crimes committed by ISIL, he added, describing the adoption of this law as potentially representing an important moment in efforts to achieve the full implementation of the Team’s mandate.

Drawing attention to a series of steps he outlined in his report that would allow for the conduct of trials in Iraq, he believes it is possible that such trials could begin next year.

Today’s biannual briefing was Mr. Khan’s last appearance before the Council in his current capacity, as he is transitioning to his new role as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Recalling that the Team, established in September 2017, began its work with only five staff members, he said that UNITAD, with more than 200 personnel deployed, “is now a fully functioning investigation team capable of addressing some of the key challenges faced by national authorities in prosecuting ISIL members for their crimes in Iraq”.

Innovation and partnership played key roles in advancing the Team’s work, he said, explaining how the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools in the analysis of internal ISIL databases now allow the Team to establish clear timelines of activities of key ISIL members, and how the Team has strengthened partnership with Iraqi authorities, survivor groups, non-governmental organizations and religious leaders.

After the Special Adviser’s briefing, Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a Yazidi and survivor of ISIL/Da’esh atrocities, recalled her address to the Council in 2017, requesting its support to ensure that ISIL/Da’esh did not succeed in its goal of eradicating the Yazidi people from Iraq. “Passing resolution 2379 (2017) was a vital step,” she acknowledged. UNITAD is contributing evidence to a number of ongoing proceedings and a handful of survivors have faced their abusers in court. Recently, she was able to bury two of her brothers along with more than 100 victims of the Kocho massacre, thanks to the exhumation of mass graves and identification of remains.

But “much work remains”, she said, urging the Council to prioritize and accelerate action to address the findings. Evidence collected by UNITAD affirms the conclusion reached by the United Nations in 2016 that ISIL/Da’esh crimes against Yazidis constitute genocide. Formal evidence collection is critical for courts and history books. She called the Council to examine the human lives impacted by the UNITAD mandate. In digital platforms, artificial intelligence and data analysis, the findings are “monumental” because each data point represents a human life. Together, this evidence tells the story of the Yazidi people, including herself. She will never forget the grief in her mother’s eyes when she realized her son had been executed — not knowing that she would face the same fate. She said she can still feel her niece’s hand being ripped from her own as they were separated and loaded onto buses like cattle, and still calculate what her body was worth to those who bought and sold it.

For nearly seven years, Yazidis have been unable to resume their lives, she said, noting that more than 200,000 are living displaced in camps only hours away from their homeland. They wait in hope for the restoration of Sinjar’s security, governance and infrastructure. Thousands of families hold out hope for the day when the remains of their relatives will be exhumed from mass graves. The true horror exists, however, for the 2,800 women and children who remain in ISIL/Da’esh captivity. This terrorist group never attempted to hide its intentions: Mass graves were clearly marked and decrees issued on the immorality of Yazidism. Manuals were published to codify the slave trade. The sale of Yazidi women still takes place online. “Their intent to eradicate our community, religion and culture was declared far and wide,” she said. It is proud of its genocide.

Despite these horrors, she said Yazidis continue to work together to rebuild their homeland and to advocate for accountability. They are eager to take part in local governance and security of the greater community. They know that stabilizing Sinjar is the best hope for preventing further persecution. “Yet our progress is constrained by politics, competing interests and inaction,” she said. “We try to turn the page only to find there is no pen with which to write our next chapter.”

She said legal authority for ISIL/Da’esh crimes would dramatically impact every aspect of their recovery. Public trials and recognition of the genocide meanwhile will help avert future violence and facilitate the healing of survivors. International monitoring is needed to ensure national courts see justice through, while international tribunals can address the universal magnitude of ISIL/Da’esh crimes against humanity. Five years ago, she called on the Council to refer this genocide to the International Criminal Court or establish a court by treaty. “We were met with empty promises and competing priorities,” she said. “Justice was deferred.”

Pointing out that Yazidis have been persecuted for centuries, she said that where impunity is accepted, violence is repeated. Accountability is essential. Evidence has been found but Yazidis are still searching for the political will to prosecute, she said, stressing: “If world leaders have the political will to act on this evidence, then justice surely is within reach.”

In the ensuing discussion, Council members welcomed the achievements made so far by UNITAD but urged continued efforts until justice is served for the victims of atrocity crimes committed by ISIL.

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