Remarks by Special Adviser Christian Ritscher at the Third Return of Remains Ceremony-Sinjar

Return of Remains Ceremony-Sinjar

Remarks by Mr. Christian Ritscher

Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh / ISIL

24 January 2024





Your Excellency Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed, First Lady of Iraq,

Distinguished Representatives of the Government of Iraq and Kurdish Regional Government,

Esteemed families of the victims; members of the Yazidi community;

Ladies and gentlemen, 

I am honored to be standing amongst all those gathered here today to pay tribute to the victims who have fallen as a result of an extreme, vicious ideology that spared no one.

Allow me first and foremost to pay my heartfelt condolences for this great loss, and my utmost respect for your endurance and resilience in the face of one of the greatest atrocities in modern history: These crimes perpetrated by ISIL against the Yazidi community, which UNITAD has legally established as genocide, as well as several countries around the world that recognized it as such, not as a mere political consideration but based on investigations and on facts resulting in judgements. Nobody can deny these facts.

              Few weeks after I first arrived in Iraq, I stood in the midst of a similar solemn gathering, with Yazidi families bidding their final farewell to their loved ones at a previous ceremony marking the identification of the victims and the return of their remains. It was one of the moments that had a profound impact on me personally, and on our unwavering commitment to the pursuit of justice and the relentless work of UNITAD.

Being here today and having this opportunity to offer some solace to the bereaved families, comes as a testament to the collaborative efforts of competent national authorities and what the joint work of Iraq and the United Nations is able to achieve.  It also attests to the outstanding persistence and strong determination of the Yazidi community towards justice and accountability; recalling all of what this community suffered and overcame to ensure victims see their day in court.

In preparation for this day, UNITAD had the honor to work closely with the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad and KRG, as well as the victim and survivor communities. In particular, our partnership with the Mass Graves Directorate (MGD) and the Medico-Legal Directorate (MLD) has been instrumental to ensure that we witness this day. I cannot emphasize more the importance of this work. I commend the leadership of the MGD and MLD and their tireless work against all odds, as they continue mass graves excavations and the process of identifications.  We remain committed to exert every possible effort to support them, whether by the provision of state-of-the-art equipment or capacity building of national specialists through several training programs, as well as on-site technical support.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to stress, on this occasion, that supporting excavation of mass graves is a crucial pursuit for UNITAD’s work, and our joint quest for accountability and justice. These operations provide the opportunity to determine the fate of thousands of victims, but as importantly, they supplement the holdings of forensic evidence on ISIL’s crimes. This vital evidence is processed, preserved, and analyzed within Iraqi authorities’ holdings through the Team’s support to the digitization and forensic equipment and capacity building provided to national counterparts.

Our work in partnership with national authorities aims to support Iraq at the forefront while it plays its natural leading role in accountability efforts and evidence-based prosecutions of ISIL’s international crimes committed in Iraq. Towards this end, we are continuing our close cooperation with the Iraqi government, in particular the Iraqi judiciary to ensure that all evidence is properly digitized, organized  and shared with the competent authorities in a meaningful way, and in line with the Team’s Terms of Reference, that can serve our common goal of seeing trials happen in Iraq, and for the victims to see the justice they have been waiting for. We will continue to work with all relevant counterparts towards that goal.

Let me take this opportunity here to reiterate UNITAD’s dedication to working hand-in-hand with Iraq, the primary intended recipient of UNITAD’s work.

In this respect, I would like to highlight that we have started sharing with the Iraqi judiciary a series of case assessment reports; foundational reports that encompass the legal qualification of the wide spectrum of ISIL crimes in Iraq. Such legal foundation is crucial for specific case files to be developed, thus ensuring we are working towards proper accountability proceedings with sound legal analysis and convincing cases that put the volumes of evidence to use in legal proceedings. While this may sound too theoretical or too abstract, such legal qualification of crimes is the way to recognize the true nature of the crimes and the suffering of the victims and survivors.  It is of utmost importance to describe ISIL crimes by their true nature; not random acts of terror but international crimes. This also applies to UNITAD’s report which legally qualified ISIL’s genocide against the Yazidi community. Victims and survivors, as well as the Iraqi society in its entirety deserves no less.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I have expressed since day one of assuming my role at UNITAD, I assure you that you are not forgotten. We remain committed to the plight you have fought long and hard for. This has remained in my heart and mind every day, since I first arrived in Iraq.

As we are continuously dealing with the pain and loss, let us take a moment to commend the resilience of the Yazidi survivors, especially the courageous Yazidi women, who have been adamant in their calls for justice, and have been brave in coming forward with their witness accounts of ISIL horrors. We all have been touched by the valiant souls who have suffered greatly but persisted in their calling.

Today we stand in testing times, when the whole world must join in ensuring safe havens are closed off to all perpetrators of ISIL heinous crimes, and ensuring justice and accountability are realized as such to make it clear that impunity has no place in our world. It is our chance to show the world how Iraq can be the cradle of healing from divides and extremism through accountability processes and victim participation in proceedings that conform with international standards.

At UNITAD, we will spare no effort to support this common goal, and to see the plights of victims and survivors yield its desired results. We can do so only through your support and through the solid partnership with Iraq. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Finally, thank you for allowing me to be among your community today and every day since the start of my tenure at this mission. It has been my, and my team’s honor to be at your service, and we will continue to be so in any possible way.

Let me again offer my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families, the Yazidi community, and to the entirety of Iraq. I truly wish that this day brings you all a glimpse of solace.


I thank you all.