Remarks by Special Adviser Christian Ritscher at the Christian Religious Leaders Conference-In Pursuit of Justice
Towards Prosecuting Core International Crimes Committed by Da'esh / ISIL Members
In Pursuit of Justice:
Investigating ISIL’s Crimes against Iraq’s Christians
Remarks by Mr. Christian Ritscher
Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD
31 August 2023, Erbil (conducted virtually)
Excellencies, distinguished guests and dear colleagues,
Esteemed Mr. Safeen Dizayee, Head of Department of Foreign Relations at the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,
Dr. Dindar Zebari, Coordinator for International Advocacy of the Kurdish Regional Government,
Let me start by extending my apologies for not being able to travel to be amongst you in person today for this remarkable event. This is due to unforeseen logistical challenges that I deeply regret.
At the same time, I am fortunate enough to be able to address you virtually, and I will be listening in to all segments of this conference.
This impressive convening of Christian dignitaries who have journeyed from different parts of Iraq, is deeply appreciated. Your togetherness and your resilience are inspirational, not just to the Christian community in Iraq, but also to us at UNITAD, as we continue with our investigations into the crimes committed by ISIL against the Christian community in Iraq.
ISIL's ideology thrived on violence, sparing neither the people of Iraq nor their diverse cultures and beliefs. ISIL's ruthlessness extended to all Iraqi communities, including the Christian community that faced their terror.
As we work in pursuit of justice for all victims and survivors, those who suffered from ISIL's atrocities, we keep in heart and mind one of UNITAD’s core principles: there is no hierarchy in victims. The magnitude of ISIL crimes affected all Iraqi faiths and communities, and to us, each and every victim of such international crimes matter, from all communities of course including the Christian community. We aim to ensure that the voices of the victims are always heard, and that the memory of lost lives persist.
You will hear a presentation later this morning from my colleagues in Erbil about the progress in our investigations into ISIL crimes against the Christian community. But let me just provide a snapshot of our work in this regard. Our dedicated Field Investigative Unit on crimes against the Christian community (FIU5) works tirelessly to strengthen its findings on those crimes, including the destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Mosul and the Ninawa plains. ISIL perpetrators targeted churches, monasteries, cemeteries, manuscripts, Christian symbols and artwork in barbaric attacks, rooted in hate and inhumanity.
Also, progress was made in the development of individual case files for ISIL members in relation to crimes committed in Hamdaniyah, including a high-level ISIL member associated with the Diwan of Spoils. The identities of these ISIL members are corroborated by testimonial evidence, ISIL internal documents and case files provided by the Iraqi judiciary.
The Team has also progressed in analyzing ISIL’s propaganda concerning the Christian community through the identification and review of ISIL publications, including fatwas and propaganda magazines; and continued their investigation into specific ISIL crimes that targeted women and children.
UNITAD's work thrives on cooperation, and on working closely with victim and survivor communities. Today, we are eager to listen from you and seek your insight on effectively engaging with the Christian community and empowering vulnerable members to participate in accountability processes.
We also work closely with our counterparts in the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. I am grateful for their excellent spirit of cooperation and continued support.
Let me emphasize that this crucial area of our work; investigating crimes against the Christian community and the destruction of cultural heritage, is pursued with thanks to generous financial support by the United States and France, and I reiterate my thanks for this continued support.
This assembly today signifies a dedication to the future of Iraq, a nation with a rich history that deserves a bright tomorrow. Our presence here is a testament to our faith in Iraq, in justice and in truth. Our united efforts can cultivate a peaceful and secure future for all Iraqis.
Our pursuit of accountability is inseparable from our strong partnerships with national counterparts, with Iraqi authorities, religious leaders, and the civil society.
And to all the survivors who have endured immeasurable pain, I assure you that your endurance guides our mission. As we remember victims from all communities, we recognize that justice is the true way to honor their memory. Through evidence-based processes, we aim to uncover the truth and hold ISIL perpetrators accountable for their heinous crimes.
I again extend my deepest gratitude to each of you for joining this important conference.