Pursuing Justice and Equality through Technology

In a large well-equipped room sits a group of young Iraqis from a myriad of backgrounds. Each focused on the computer screen in front of them, painstakingly going through thousands of pieces of data a day, documents, photos and films that detail how ISIL ruled the large territories it controlled in Iraq. This arduous task is essential for analysis, preservation and exploitation of evidence related to ISIL crimes against all Iraqi communities, including minorities and vulnerable groups. It also feeds into the support to accountability processes for ISIL’s horrid crimes committed in Iraq.

Coming from the heart of the impacted communities, UNITAD’s E-Discovery Review team consists of a national group of young researchers who are eager to support justice and accountability efforts and gain advanced knowledge in the use of modern technology for evidence search and preservation. UNITAD experts provided the team with specialized training in the fundamentals of electronic discovery, focusing on machine-learning aided review, search, quality control checks and others. With these trainings, the researchers will categorize records and documents, improving the efficiency of data retrieval and evidence analysis that are conducted by UNITAD investigators. This work is critically needed to employ technology and best practices in dealing with millions of records including documents left behind by ISIL’s bureaucratic rule over the territories it controlled in the period between 2014 – 2017, as well as UNITAD’s repository.

Women constitute 80% of the E-Discovery team. Among them is a young woman (S.Q)[1] who passionately speaks about being a part of the dream team: “I was very eager to join the E-Discovery team as it is very personal to me.”

Originally from Mosul, S. feels the need for her and others from within the Iraqi community to support justice processes. “I volunteered before in the field of humanitarian relief efforts and found my passion in helping others. When this project was announced, I was working in an interior design office, but I immediately applied and wanted to work with the UN, and more specifically with UNITAD” she says. To her, the work she does as a part of the E-discovery team goes hand in hand with the efforts of the victims, and their families, or as she calls them: “the heroes who, through their first-hand witness accounts and the information and testimonies which they provided, help persecutors and authorities bring ISIL criminals to justice.”

Like her colleagues from various minority communities in Iraq, working with UNITAD provides S. with more than an income, it provides her with an opportunity to grow through unique training and a special life-time experience to Iraqi women and underrepresented minorities in leading electronic discovery and investigatory processes and technology.

“The violent atrocities that ISIL committed against all Iraqi communities are well-documented and it is UNITAD’s duty to review this evidence to establish the full truth about the organization’s crimes and their legal qualification under international law.” said Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD, Mr. Christian Ritscher. “The E-Discovery Review team serves a crucial part of our mandate by developing the capacities of national specialists to deal with the sheer amount of evidence and data related to ISIL crimes. It is also important to improve the efficiency of our investigations and support Iraqi authorities with organized and robust evidence that is admissible in competent courts for prosecutions of ISIL international crimes in Iraq.” he adds.

ISIL was a very tech-savvy international terrorist organisation. The organisation fully employed technology to promote and spread their dominance and hate speech. Whether it was high-definition videos of prisoners being executed, or the several layers of cyber-security employed during their recruitment of followers, ISIL knew how to utilize technology. Yet, all these activities left a trail that UNITAD’s highly qualified experts are well equipped to handle. The work being done by the E-Discovery team to digitize, categorize and preserve evidence, though complex and protracted, yields remarkable results and is an important pillar of UNITAD’s operations, which support Iraqi national capacities.

This project offers a layer of synergy between the evidence in all its forms and the investigators. It ensures that searches focus on the value and impact of evidence and cuts down the time needed by investigators to sift through the thousands of pages of collected evidence. It is not surprising to see young women like S. and others on the team eager to work with this project as it offers them a chance to excel in a field which is largely male dominated. It also enables them to carry on the voice of Iraqi women survivors of ISIL crimes, and have their experiences documented and employed in justice processes.

The job does come with difficulties, namely, the graphic nature of ISIL atrocities and crimes. Exposure to such content continuously has its toll on the team, but the perseverance of the national specialists doesn’t wane. As S. describes her experience: “I had a difficult time seeing or reading anything about what children and women were subjected to, some of which my colleagues have been through first-hand. However, I am a mother and the thought of such atrocities recurring and impacting my children, or myself is too much to bear. This is why I believe in my work, and I have hope that through technology we can expedite accountability towards guaranteeing these acts are not repeated” she adds.

UNITAD’s E-Discovery Review team operations were recently launched to build on the Team’s efforts to preserve evidence in line with the highest international standards. It builds also on the long-standing partnerships that UNITAD has with Iraqi civil society organisations within the communities impacted by ISIL atrocities, as well as the Team’s successful harnessing technology efforts, which are yielding impressive results in the digitization project with the Iraqi judiciary.  The E-Discovery team brings unique technical knowledge to Iraqi specialists to operate technology in high-level curation of the data, for long term (including post-UNITAD) reference.

The E-Discovery team, although just starting, is expected to lead positive change for the national specialists working on it, partners in civil society, and investigators. As Special Adviser Ritscher indicates: “This project demonstrates the supportive role that UNITAD plays in promoting accountability for ISIL crimes, while opening unique venues of engagement with the impacted Iraqi communities. We hope that our researchers will be able to continue working in the service of their own communities and all of Iraq, sustainably employing the skills they have learned for the benefit of justice in their country.”


[1] Name not disclosed for privacy.





For More Information please contact Public Information Officer (Maha Thaher) for the

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

E-mail: UNITAD-PIO@un.org