Special Adviser Christian Ritscher Visits Taza Khurmatu and Meets Survivors of ISIL Chemical Attack

UNITAD has been intensifying its investigations into ISIL’s development and deployment of chemical and biological weapons through cooperation with competent Iraqi authorities and the impacted community.

On 25 February, Special Adviser Christian Ritscher visited Taza Khurmatu in Kirkuk, while the town prepares to mark the anniversary of the ISIL attacks during which prohibited chemical weapons were used against its population and agricultural areas in March 2016. Special Adviser Ritscher and his accompanying team were received by the Mayor of Taza Khurmatu, Mr. Hussein Adel, and Judge Ali Noaman, Investigative Judge, Taza Investigation Court, as well as several officials, community leaders and survivors, who presented more information on the chemical attack and the long-term repercussions of this atrocious crime on Iraqi civilians in the area.

Special Adviser Ritscher and the team had the opportunity to meet with a group of victims, consisting of the parents of five-year-old Fatimah who died shortly after the attack, and other survivors who lost their children and loved ones, learning more about what they went through, and the implications that they still endure until today, including severe illnesses and social marginalization. The Special Adviser expressed his compassion to the survivors and reassured them that this line of investigation into ISIL development and deployment of chemical weapons is one of UNITAD’s investigative priorities. He expressed his admiration for "the resilience of the people of Taza Khurmatu who stood in the face of ISIL perpetrators, who endured years of suffering as a result of this attack, yet came out more ready to defend their rights and demand justice and accountability."

During the visit, Special Adviser Ritscher and the team also accompanied Brigadier General Mahmoud Jassem Ali and Lieutenant Colonel Raed Nimah Ahmed of the Civil Defense Directorate (CBRN) to two sites where ISIL chemical projectiles hit inside and in the vicinity of civilian homes. Brig. Gen. Ali explained the magnitude of the impact on these two sites as well as on other places, elaborating on first response and decontamination operations. He stressed the success of these operations despite the challenges of the limited resources, and the fact that decontamination was carried out while ISIL shelling was ongoing at the time. He also explained different efforts undertaken to document the attack and communicate with concerned international entities to support response.

Moreover, Special Adviser Ritscher visited Taza Khurmatu Police Station, where he was welcomed by Mr. Ayoub Shawkat, Chief of the Police Station and was shown the documents of the Taza Khurmatu Investigation Court pertaining to the attacks and their victims. UNITAD is planning to support the digitization of those documents in cooperation with the Court soon, to ensure preservation of such important documents in line with international standards, and to also protect them from loss or damage.

Special Adviser Ritscher stressed that UNITAD will exert all effort in its investigations towards the common goal of bringing ISIL perpetrators to justice through evidence-based trials and on charges of international crimes, so that the world hears the voice of the victims including those of Taza Khurmatu and all affected Iraqi communities who suffered from ISIL’s criminality.