Challenges to Investigating ISIL Gender-Based Crimes Discussed in the 5th Thematic Roundtable of the UNITAD-NGO Dialogue Forum

Baghdad 01 March 2023: The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL convened the Fifth Thematic Roundtable of the UNITAD-NGO Dialogue Forum titled “Towards holding ISIL perpetrators accountable for international crimes: Investigating Gender-based Crimes”, bringing together 50 participants from civil society organizations and UNITAD team members, to reflect on the work that has been done so far in investigating ISIL’s gender-based crimes, and exchange thoughts and best practices to strengthen UNITAD’s cooperation with the NGO community in this area. 

On behalf of Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD Christian Ritscher, Ms. Defne Akca, Chief of Office of Field Investigations, delivered the opening remarks for this roundtable, emphasizing the importance of investigating gender-based crimes as a cross-cutting theme while looking into ISIL’s international crimes against various communities in Iraq, including crimes against Yazidi, Christians and Shia Turkmen.  “It is important to highlight that ISIL committed gender-based violence and crimes against children of all communities. Over the past months, UNITAD has expanded its investigations into ISIL’s use of child soldiers from different communities. This includes Yazidi and Shia Turkmen boys, and also Sunni boys who were forced into conscription. The scale of ISIL’s crimes impacted a wide range of communities in Iraq, and UNITAD’s lines of investigations cover the breadth of crimes committed against all impacted communities”, she emphasized.

Ms. Maria Pimentel Biscaia, Head of UNITAD Gender and Children Crimes Unit (GCU) gave an overview of the role of GCU in UNITAD’s investigations and what has been achieved so far, including in analyzing the patterns of sexual and gender-based crimes committed by ISIL against women and girls. She also presented challenges facing investigations into such crimes, especially those pertaining to interviewing survivors, while highlighting UNITAD’s approaches aiming at overcoming such challenges, setting best practices through the Team’s trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches, as well as measures to minimize the risk of re-traumatization by ensuring psychosocial support to witnesses before and during interviews.

Ms. Gergana Yancheva, Investigator at the United Nations, took part in the event remotely, and presented a comparative angle from her experiences investigating sexual and gender-based crimes internationally, stressing that fear of social stigma, fear of retaliation, and lack of proper spaces for interviewing victims remain some of the common challenges across different countries when it comes to investigating such crimes. She presented some best practices in dealing with these challenges, including advocacy for justice and against stigmatization of victims.

Ms. Hajir Abbas, Transitional Justice Researcher and Consultant provided insights from her experience on the challenges facing Iraqi survivors in investigative processes, whether for accountability purposes or for other reparative or restorative justice purposes, mentioning also the Yazidi Survivors Law, its drafting and mechanisms for its implementation. She further explained some of the challenges which the survivors face in Iraq, including security and privacy concerns, the spread of misinformation, survivors’ fatigue, and the lack of faith in the justice process. She presented recommendations to deal with such challenges, including the importance of effective coordination among NGOs.

Several NGO representatives discussed various challenges that they face while working with survivors. More common were the fear of stigmatization, the need for improvements on the Survivors Law, and the need for tangible support to survivors in justice, protection, and reparations processes.

The UNITAD-NGO Dialogue Forum was launched in December 2020, with the aim of serving as a platform that brings together all relevant international and Iraqi NGOs for regular collaboration, exchange of ideas and best practices, as well as exploring areas for enhancing cooperation. To learn more about the Forum you may visit UNITAD official website.


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United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL,