UNITAD and the Government of Iraq: A Strong Partnership in the Pursuit of Justice and Accountability

20 April 2021, Baghdad - UNITAD has been operating for over four years with the support, partnership, and guidance of the Security Council (SC) and its member states. In addition to the close partnership with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. A partnership that has set UNITAD apart from other investigative teams mandated by the Security Council in other countries.

Pursuant to UN SC resolution 2379 (2017), UNITAD is mandated to assist Iraqi efforts in holding Da’esh/ISIL members accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This includes: gathering, analyzing and preserving collected evidentiary material in line with international standards.

Mass graves and their excavations constitute a large part of UNITAD’s investigative efforts, yet they present inherent complexities. The longer these sites remain unattended to, accountability and reconciliation efforts will seem harder to attain for affected families and communities.

To confront such complexities, UNITAD has placed the cooperation with the Iraqi Mass Grave Directorate (MGD) and Medico Legal Directorate (MLD) as part of its core investigative programming. UNITAD has played a key role in guiding the national strategy to investigate mass graves, through which it was able to connect with all national partners and stakeholders working on this complex topic.

Additionally, the partnership with MGD and MLD has allowed UNITAD to provide national teams with technical assistance and technologically advanced equipment for mass grave excavations, the recovery and DNA-based identification of the remains of victims, as well as building the capacity of the MGD and MLD national teams and relevant Iraqi stakeholders. All of which is conducted through the generous support of the United States State Department, and in line with international standards, while prioritizing Iraqi ownership of these processes.

In a recent initiative, UNITAD has provided MGD with 2 four-wheel drive, all terrain drive vehicles, to support field deployments and the provision of technical expert support under UNITAD’s program to support the mass grave investigations funded by the Department of State.

Further, UNITAD’s technical experts provided theoretical training and mentoring to national MGD professionals in the application of 3D laser scanning technology to the survey and mapping of complex crime scenes, such as mass graves.

Also, through a partnership with United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), a specifically designed training package was developed and conducted on Explosive Hazards Awareness (EHA) for MGD and MLD who routinely conduct field assessment missions and excavations and may be exposed to these types of hazards in course of their work.

The continuous, meaningful partnership with the Iraqi authorities has been a cornerstone to UNITAD’s investigative efforts into Da’esh/ISIL crimes against all constituencies of the Iraqi community.

These investigative efforts lay the grounds for two important themes that UNITAD has been working on with the Iraqi. The first being building case files for identified Da’esh/ISIL perpetrators, and the second is the passing of a domestic law that allows for the prosecution of Da’esh/ISIL perpetrators in domestic courts according to international standards. The law is currently under review by the Parliament of Iraq and is expected to provide the victims and survivors with the justice they seek through trials and proper labeling of Da’esh/ISIL crimes as War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, and Genocide.

To read more about the most up-to-date progress of UNITAD’s investigations in cooperation with Iraqi authorities, you may read Special Adviser Khan’s latest briefing to the Security Council here, and you may read Special Adviser Khan’s fifth report to the Security Council here.