UNITAD at a Rapid Pace in Assisting Justice Opportunities in Many Countries-Special Adviser Ritscher Tells UNSC

Baghdad, 08 December 2022 – Special Adviser Christian Ritscher briefed the UN Security Council earlier this week on the ninth report of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD).

Special Adviser Ritscher highlighted the continuous engagement of the Team with Iraqi counterparts during the reporting period, emphasizing also that: “consideration and concerns of all communities impacted by ISIL crimes in Iraq remain at the forefront of the Teams’ investigative work.”

Continued partnership with Iraq as explained by Special Adviser Ritscher involved several areas, including advanced support to capacity building for Iraqi judges, as well as supporting  the excavation of several ISIL-related mass graves in Iraq according to the annual road map agreed to with the Government of Iraq and international partners; and the preservation of evidence on ISIL-related crimes where the Team: “so far converted 5.5 million physical pages of documentary evidence into usable digital formats, and currently supports digitization activities at six different sites in Iraq with a throughput of approximately 100,000 pages per week,” as Special Adviser Ritscher specified.

The Special Adviser, further, described key progress in the Team’s investigations over the past 6 months encompassing UNITAD’s relentless efforts towards global accountability for Da’esh/ISIL crimes committed in Iraq, mainly concerning the completion of the case assessment focused on crimes committed against the Christian community in Iraq, which substantiated preliminary findings of acts constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes; and the development and use of chemical and biological weapons by Da’esh/ISIL focusing on the attack on Taza Khurmatu on 08 March 2016, which has generated significant volumes of battlefield evidence.

He also stated that UNITAD started to advance with its investigations into ISIL’s destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq. These investigations represent a breakthrough in the landscape of core international crimes investigations. So far, the evidence obtained shows that religious and cultural sites were either intentionally destroyed by ISIL, or taken over and occupied, sometimes for military purposes, adding that “this work will provide the basis for a case assessment report, giving a detailed picture of this aspect of ISIL‘s heinous crimes; crimes that targeted the history and culture of Iraq, and that of humanity at large.”

Highlighting a “pivotal stage” of UNITAD’s mandate, Special Adviser Ritscher indicated that the Team has: “now reached the next level on the path of holding ISIL perpetrators accountable for the core international crimes they committed.”, explaining that: “while maintaining the same dedication to our investigative lines and capacity-enhancement activities, UNITAD will also shift towards a stronger and systematic support of individual accountability proceedings of alleged members of ISIL for international crimes before competent courts.”

He stressed the need for Iraq to adopt domestic legislation: “on core international crimes, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide,” encouraging the Iraqi Council of Representatives to consider this matter, and mentioning that UNITAD remains hopeful that after the formation of the new government in Iraq there will be progress in this regard.

He further explained that “sharing information with the Iraqi judiciary to support investigative work and ongoing judicial proceedings means a lot more than just handing over a huge box of evidentiary material that is comparable to thousands, even millions of puzzle pieces. To promote accountability for international crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq means to deliver tailored assistance in accordance with the needs of the respective investigative judge or court. This could pertain to the sharing of information, but can also imply specific trainings and the sharing of experience and best practice in terms of handling the huge volume of evidence already in possession of the Iraqi judiciary.”

Concluding, Special Adviser Ritscher reminded that UNITAD was established by the Security Council to ensure that the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq are held responsible in courts of law and that justice will be served, stressing that the Team: “is now moving at an even more rapid pace to assist justice opportunities for alleged ISIL members, if and when they present themselves, and regardless where the perpetrators may reside. UNITAD will not stop to ensure that justice is delivered for the thousands of victims and survivors who have been impatiently waiting to see their day in court.”

Full briefing text here


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