UNITAD: Unique partnership with Iraq and Continued Commitment to Justice for Victims of ISIL Crimes

Baghdad, 07 June 2023 – Special Adviser and head of UNITAD Christian Ritscher briefed the United Nations Security Council on the 10th report that details the Team’s work over the past reporting period.

Special Adviser Ritscher explained that 5 years since its establishment at the request of Iraq, UNITAD continues to be an international team with a unique mandate, working in cooperation with national authorities, while promoting accountability for the international crimes committed by ISIL throughout the world.

In his briefing, Special Adviser Ritscher reiterated the Team’s commitment to the pursuit of justice for all Iraqi communities afflicted by ISIL atrocities. In this regard, the Special Adviser indicated that the Team engages with religious and tribal leaders, representatives of affected communities and survivors of ISIL crimes, saying: “I have been impressed by the support given to my Team by the affected communities, especially the ones I recently visited in Taza Khurmatu, in Hiit and in Ramadi,” highlighting that : “I was deeply touched by the wise words of His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Al Sistani, who said that: all ISIL victims matter equally, with no hierarchy. This same principle is the foundation of UNITAD’s work.”

Presenting the progress in the Team’s investigations, Special Adviser Ritscher mentioned that the UNITAD has worked on several case-assessments, including on the development and use of chemical weapons by ISIL, on gender-based crimes and crimes against children, crimes committed against the Sunni community in Al-Anbar, and the attacks against the Christian communities in Ninewa. Additionally, regarding ISIL attacks against the Yazidi and the Shia communities, case-briefs have also been enhanced with additional evidence and analyses.

Special Adviser Ritscher stressed that cooperation with Iraqi authorities is key for success, and that success comes through seeking accountability for ISIL international crimes in evidence-based trials, before competent courts. He explained that what is required to achieve this success are three elements: “competent courts, admissible and reliable evidence, and an appropriate legal framework.”

Towards this end, he expressed that the Team is committed to support the: “Iraq-led process for the implementation of a legal framework that enables the prosecution of ISIL criminal acts as international crimes, before national courts”, prompting dealing with the brutal attacks of ISIL as international crimes and not just membership of a terrorist organization.

Cooperation with the Iraqi judiciary, as Special Adviser Ritscher indicated, encompasses also enhancing capacities of Iraqi judges, ongoing joint case-building, and the mega digitization project, which has led so far to the digitization of the impressive amount of 8 million pages of ISIL documents from the holdings of the Iraqi authorities, including Kurdish authorities. In Iraq, there is no shortage of evidence on ISIL crimes, and with these innovative initiatives, Iraqi judges informed they are able to significantly improve response times in relation to case files and requests for information, signaling lasting change as a result of these innovative efforts.

Speaking of the Team’s support to international accountability efforts, Special Adviser Ritscher stated that UNITAD has become: “an indispensable member of the international network created to fight impunity for ISIL crimes,” mentioning that the Team is currently supporting 17 Third-State jurisdictions.

Concluding his briefing, Special Adviser Ritscher reiterated that UNITAD: “continues to be impartial, independent, and credible in upholding the United Nations best practices, and relevant international law.” He also stressed the importance of having fair trials before competent courts in Iraq with the active participation of victims and survivors, “Without that, UNITAD’s mandate and purpose will not be fulfilled” as Special Adviser Ritscher said.

For more information, please contact Public Information Officer (Maha Thaher): unitad-pio@un.org