UAE and Amal Clooney push for using tech against war criminals

Facial recognition software and artificial intelligence can put ISIS fighters and others behind bars

Ms Clooney spoke at informal UN Security Council talks alongside Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad. Reuters
Ms Clooney spoke at informal UN Security Council talks alongside Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad. Reuters

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and the UAE mission to the UN on Wednesday pushed for facial recognition software and other technologies to be used to prosecute former ISIS members and other perpetrators of atrocities.

Ms Clooney, a lawyer for ISIS victims from Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, said the militant group had left behind a trove of digital evidence of atrocities that should be used to put many more abusers behind bars.

She spoke at informal UN Security Council talks involving the US, British, Iraqi, Dutch and Emirati missions to the UN as well as Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by ISIS and who later received a Nobel Peace Prize

“ISIS committed this crime in plain sight,” Ms Clooney said.

“Instead of covering their tracks, they brandished their weapons and left a trail of evidence. Instead of denying responsibility, they boasted online of their ambition to destroy Yazidis. They made videos of their beheadings and they established a bureaucracy to administer the sale of women's bodies between fighters.”

A UN investigation into ISIS crimes in Iraq used innovative technologies to gather evidence against the group and recently determined its fighters clearly committed genocide against Yazidis when they swept through western Iraq in 2014.

The investigation unit, known as Unitad, gathered thousands of administrative documents from former ISIS strongholds and offices, and seized militants' laptops and mobile phone records to build prosecution case files.

Analysts used artificial intelligence systems and facial recognition software to pore over multimedia files for relevant faces, locations and objects that could be used as evidence against former ISIS fighters.

The team also devised a mobile app for victims to submit evidence of ISIS crimes once they had fled overseas, flew 4K drones to spot mass graves and used 3D laser scanners to record crime scenes that could be played back later in courtrooms.

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE ambassador to the UN, said Abu Dhabi had backed Unitad with $500,000 to tackle ISIS atrocities against women and children and urged other countries to also fund its crime-fighting efforts.

“Technology is undoubtedly playing a key role in helping to achieve accountability,” said Ms Nusseibeh said.

“We really hope to see further co-operation between the unit and tech companies to enhance the team's capacity in collecting and analysing digital evidence.”

Addressing the Security Council this week, Unitad head Karim Khan said the team had so far identified 1,444 possible offenders who should be brought before courts in Iraq and beyond.

“There is clear and convincing evidence that the crimes against the Yazidi people clearly constituted genocide,” said Mr Khan, who will next month become top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Iraqi forces largely melted away as ISIS swept across the country in 2014, slaughtering thousands of members of the Yazidi religious community in Sinjar and forcing more than 7,000 women and girls into sexual slavery.

A US-led military coalition pushed the militants back and Iraq declared victory over the group in December 2017. Iraqi officials have since prosecuted tens of thousands of detained former fighters, but Yazidi activists say trials are often flawed.

Mr Murad and Ms Clooney lobbied the Security Council to investigate atrocities and Unitad was created in 2017. They also pushed for ISIS criminals to face trials at the ICC or another war crimes tribunal.

Updated: May 13, 2021 10:55 AM

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