Special Adviser Karim Khan QC Speech at UNSC Briefing, June 15, 2020


Madame President and Distinguished Delegates,

It is indeed an honour to present this fourth briefing of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed of Da’esh. (Video)

Last week, on 10th June, we marked the sixth anniversary of the occupation of Mosul.  Six long years since Da’esh misused a flag that proclaimed the unity of God to spread division, hatred, cruelty and violence over Mosul and large swathes of territory that fell under its foul control.

It was my honour, in March of this year, just a couple of months back, to see the green shoots of recovery of real Mosul. One evening I went to the University of Mosul, where there were around 300 people waiting to see me. They have heard that the United Nations Investigative Team was in town and I was met by students, by parents, by old people and by faculty. And I addressed them, and in the course of that address I said that in the corner we have an investigator who is part of our dedicated team looking at the crimes of Da’esh in Mosul. And there upon I saw a steady stream of people go up to this investigator in the corner to give him their details. Some produced photographs of the missing, some produced evidence, some gave their details.

And indeed, it was a very poignant scene to behold. And the Dean of the University, who was sitting next to me, said: “this is hope. This is what hope looks like.” So, there was clearly a yearning for justice in Mosul that evening, and by the end of that evening, 200 people had given their details to the Team. And that yearning for justice I have seen in every part of Iraq where I have been, or members of the Team have been. It is a yearning for justice that gave rise to UNITAD, and of course it is a mandate that we have to collectively achieve together.  

This period, these last six months, have been challenging by any measure. There have been security challenges of different sorts, and of course the global pandemic that has befallen Iraq, as it has every other country of the world. But despite these hurdles, the Team has worked with really quite some imagination, quite some purpose to ensure that the momentum that had been gathering speed has not been lost. And done this using latest technology to overcome some of the difficulties we face, introducing technological advances, and working really evermore closely with the Iraqi partners in government and civil society, victim communities and in the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Innovation and partnership have, as far as possible, been our watchwords not for any other reason as to ensure the most effective delivery of the mandate and it has brought tangible results.

In relation to the Sinjar investigations alone, in relation to a three-months period July to August 2014, we have, with the full support and facilitated by the Chief Justice [Faiq] Zidan and Iraqi Judiciary received two million call data records that allow us to geo-locate both witnesses who have given accounts, to see where they were, and perpetrators were, who they spoke to in different periods of time and we have used that technology with quite some success, not only in Sinjar but also in relation to Camp Speicher, the massacre at Tikrit Air Cadet Academy.

The great and indispensable relationship with the Iraqi judiciary, has also proved dividends. They moved our request very swiftly to preserve phone records from 2014 that otherwise would have been lost. And again, this may seem a small matter, but it really was of critical importance, given the critical nature of cell site evidence, IMEI records and that category of evidence.

The Ministry of Defence, and the Department of Military Intelligence, have given us access to physical items of evidence that was seized from Da’esh members. Cell phones, hard drives, computers and other electronic material that can be scrubbed for evidence in a way that preserves the hash values and facilitates their admissibility in courts. And we have done that in a way that we have been also training the Iraqi counterparts in some of the latest technology that we have access to.

In terms of field work, 3D laser scanners, 4K drones, imagery have been used so that we can preserve crime scenes and represented in 3D modelling, so whether in Baghdad, Bartella or Berlin for that matter, this evidence can be put before judges so they could understand what took place, how it took place, and it can in a very real sense bring life to the accounts of witnesses and courageous survivors. One of the advantages of COVID-19 really is necessity of using new technology and I think we are going to keep using it more and more. We are rolling out a mobile application that allows UNITAD to work and communicate directly with the survivor communities, whether they’re in Iraq, Australia or Germany. They can actually give us their names and details securely, they can even upload photographs and other material so that we can expedite our focused investigations to get results. The inhouse team have been fabulous. They have coded themselves an evidence management system that really, I think is in a category of its own. It allows investigators in the field to use cell phones and their laptops to upload evidence in real time that preserves their electronic signature, and it allows other investigators and other lawyers to see what the latest material is, and it can be accessed in the field. That has been done all in house, as I have said.

As a result of these measures, Madame President and Distinguished Delegates,

I am pleased to say that there has been a quantum move forward in terms of investigations. This new technology in many respects may, if it is harnessed properly, and completely, it may be fair to say that it represents a paradigm shift in investigations.

In terms of Sinjar, which was our first focus of investigation, we have now identified 344 alleged perpetrators over 16 crime sites. We have done that by way of technology, testimonial evidence, video evidence, and videos also from the exhumations that we have been assisting with, along with the Iraqi and KRG authorities.

In terms of Camp Speicher, the massacre of unarmed Air Cadets. In fact, today marks the sixth anniversary of that very cruel massacre that we have all seen. In relation to that, we have been able to categorize at least seven type of international crimes that have been committed, and we have had excellent cooperation from the Iraqi Judicial Commission who have also give us access to autopsy reports and other information, so we can facilitate more in depth investigations of that crime.

In relation to Mosul, in March, just before the movement restrictions were place because of the pandemic, we started along with the Iraqi authorities, the Mass Graves Directorate, the Medico Legal Directorate, exhumations of two mass grave excavations in and around Mosul.

What I am hoping to be able to speak to in my next report is the legal characterization of crimes based on independent investigations and forensic analysis. The legal characterization is important for many reasons. We are hoping to build dossiers and case files that will also show the contextual elements of international crimes that can be used by Iraqi courts, and also by any domestic system that is trying to ensure accountability for the crimes committed by Da’esh.  And as I said, it is my hope that I can elaborate on that in my next briefing.

It really is critical that no one is left behind. And because of the generous extra budgetary contributions, particularly, the United Kingdom and the United States, we have managed to expand our investigations from Sinjar, Mosul and Tikrit, to cover [crimes against] Kaka’i, Shabak, Turkmen, Christian and Sunni This is really essential. From my initial appointment, I have mentioned all the different communities I interacted [with]: “that every life matters, and there is no hierarchy of victim”. So, these two additional investigative teams that we have now created from extra-budgetary contributions, allows us to fulfill that promise that all crimes against all communities that were targeted by Da’esh will have independent investigations, resources focused upon them.

Throughout this period and indeed since my appointment almost two years ago, I have readily emphasised the critical role of the Government of Iraq. There would be no unanimous resolution and no unity in the Council without Iraq’s very eloquent and very powerful support. That powerful support has manifested itself in terms of being the host country. Every movement we take in Iraq, our analysts and our investigations, our security is guaranteed and is assisted with by the Government of Iraq. And that is really tremendously valued and important. The cooperation from the judges and from some of the ministries is excellent. But of course, victims and survivors want more. They want us to move faster, and they are right. I am convinced, and I have had discussions over the past few days with the Prime Minister’s Office. This morning I had the honour of speaking with the Foreign Minister as well, His Excellency Fuad Hussein, and I am convinced that with the new government, with the Administration of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, there is a new will to really deliver and accelerate and build upon the very good cooperation we’ve had from previous administrations.

The National Coordinating Committee (NCC) has been very important. It is mentioned in the Terms of Reference, and we have managed in recruiting more Iraqis in this period since my last report; lawyers, investigators, and I hope that will also continue going forward. I think it is of critical importance the role of the National Coordinating Committee has been to facilitate and agree [on] a very large digitization project, that we have support from the European Union, to digitize the different archives in the Kurdistan Regional Government, and in the Government of Iraq, so we can exploit the information that is there as effectively as possible to ensure that there is no place to hide for those individuals of Da’esh that have such culpable responsibility. And I think that is a very important project that the NCC is to be applauded for facilitating.

The Kurdistan Regional Government cooperation has also been an essential part and an essential feature over this reporting period. This morning I spoke to His Excellency the President Mr. Nechirvan Bazani. He again reiterated his enthusiastic support for the mandate, and the imperative that collectively, the Council, the KRG, the Government of Iraq, UNITAD and survivors we deliver on the promise that we made to victims that there is real accountability for the crimes that have been committed.

But it is important to underline in a very vivid sense that the task of UNITAD, is not simply to collect and preserve evidence and information, important though that is. It is not simply to be a memory of tragedy. Success, in many respects, is going to be defined by the evidence that we collect by way of independent investigations feeding into independent and fair trials. It is that that victims and survivors hunger for. They want the crimes that have been committed against them to be properly labelled a genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. I think six years on, they are waiting, and I am confident that hopefully we can move forward with more alacrity this year. It April this year, that I submitted a strategy paper to the government, the President and Prime Minister, outlining a clear roadmap about what can be done to ensure we get to that destination we all want to arrive at. Mainly, prosecutions for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

In this regard, Council Members will be aware perhaps, the H.E. President Barham Salih has placed a bill before Parliament around October, November, which would allow Iraq to domesticate international crimes. I think with common will, I hope this Iraqi law, this Iraqi inspired law, can achieve cross-party consensus and can move forward so that we can also feed into these cases.

This spirit of partnership has to imbue and encompass every part of Iraq. I have mentioned the Government, I have mentioned briefly survivors, but religious leaders have an immense part to play for many different reasons. In my meetings with the leadership of the Catholic Church, Chaldean community, the Christian Orthodox, the Sunni Council, the Shia community, the Kaka’i and the Yazidi community. We have also emphasized that a common partnership is needed. And I was immensely pleased that with the assistance of H.E. Under-Secretary-General Adama Dieng, that we managed with the religious leaders to find common ground to come together in the adoption of the landmark Interfaith Statement on the Victims and Survivors of Daesh crimes. And the important part of this really, was not just the unanimous support for UNITAD, helpful and welcome though that was, it was the emphasis that victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based crimes, crimes affecting children should not be stigmatized. They have to be treated with kindness and accountability in terms of proper fair trials is a right and something that all those religious leaders found common course to espouse. I am hoping, moving forward, that that work will continue, together with myself and Under-Secretary-General Adama Dieng and the religious communities.

NGOs are important. In the last couple of weeks, we reached out to more than 50 NGOs. We’ve had round tables on the first of June with Iraqi NGOs, and also with international NGOs as well [on June 4].

Let me end with the comment of the Dean at the University of Mosul, and his words that “this is what hope looks like; this is hope”. It is a heavy responsibility. It is a responsibility for us collectively, not disappoint the survivors who have endured more than they should ever have had to endure. That can only be done by the continued support that the Council Members have given UNITAD, that Member States have given UNITAD, in terms of political support, financial support, personnel, and the Government of Iraq has generously also provided. I think, if we continue with that ethos, this demand of accountability can be taken off the pages of a report and brought to life in the courtroom when judgements can be rendered that stand the test of time. So, thank you so much for this opportunity to present this fourth report.

You can watch the Special Adviser's video on the following link: https://www.unitad.un.org/content/special-adviser-karim-khan-qc-speech-unsc-briefing-june-15-2020