UN approves special team to investigate ISIL crimes in Iraq

Investigators will help collect evidence for trials in Iraqi courts

The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss adopting a resolution to help preserve evidence of Islamic State crimes in Iraq, during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The United Nations on Thursday approved the creation of an UN inquiry team to investigate crimes by ISIL in Iraq, in a drive to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice.

Iraqi officials welcomed the Security Council's unanimous adoption of a resolution that would see the establishment of the team led by a special UN adviser.

Under the framework, the evidence of crimes collected by the investigators will be used to try the alleged perpetrators in an Iraqi court, but the resolution also grants the authority to prosecute the crimes around the globe in certain circumstances.

“This resolution will bring about justice that so many Iraqis hope for and it could help to lead to lasting peace,” said Britain's Middle East minister Alistair Burt, who sponsored the motion. “That peace can only be secured once Iraq has overcome sectarian divisions and achieved the national unity that its people deserve.

“Justice and reconciliation are essential requirements.”

Ibrahim Jaafari, Iraq's foreign minister told The National that Iraq had assembled a mass of evidence of killings, much of it recorded on mobile phones.

“The crimes that were committed in Iraq are clear and obvious as they were documented on video tapes,” he said. “The faces of those who were responsible are on tapes and there is no greater evidence that burning a child alive in front of a camera.”

There was delight that the resolution had been passed unanimously. “This is one instance in which the system is working exactly as it should and it is a very good thing for once,” said one official involved in the effort to establish the inquiry team.

Handling the material, sifting through the footage, establishing investigative leads, corroborating activities and verifying its authenticity is a formidable undertaking. Officials hope that as ISIL loses its grip on Iraqi territory the focus will shift to targeting its fighters.

Among other crimes, the extremist group has been accused of mass executions of Iraqi troops and citizens as well as the abduction and sexual enslavement of thousands of women from Iraq's Yazidi community.

The UN team will seek to recruit experts in evidence collation and war crimes investigations to ensure that Iraqi prosecutors and foreign courts — should suspects be captured abroad — are able to act on the material that has been seized.

Personnel will consist of both international and domestic experts who will work “on equal footing”, with an initial mandate of two years.

Baghdad insisted that the UN investigators would operate with full respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and its jurisdiction over crimes committed in its territory.

The resolution states that evidence of crimes collected and stored by the team in Iraq should be for eventual use in fair and independent criminal proceedings conducted by competent national-level courts, with the relevant Iraqi authorities as the primary intended recipient.

Other member states can request the team to collect evidence of acts committed by ISIL on their territory, but only with the approval of the Security Council, which may request the secretary general to submit separate terms of reference.

The new body will operate independently of the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, which was created by a General Assembly resolution in December despite fierce resistance from Russia. As a permanent member Russia has blocked all attempts by the Security Council to pursue criminal investigations in Syria because of the potential legal threat to Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

Catherine Marchi-Uhel, a French judge, was appointed to lead the Syrian mechanism in July and officials said they hoped that the Iraqi operation could be up and running within a few months.

Mr Burt said that the crimes in the former Yugoslavia, like the massacre of Muslim men in Srebrenica, were first investigated by a UN inquiry before the tribunal at the Hague was established. “The painstaking efforts of collecting the evidence of what had happened, linking what had happened to individuals whose actions could be prosecuted actually worked,” he said

The primary focus of the Iraq inquiry will be into war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Ambassadors acknowledged that the team and their Iraqi counterparts would face a challenge in preserving the huge amount of evidence of ISIL crimes committed on Iraqi territory.

Britain announced after the vote that it would contribute £1 million (Dh5m) to establish the UN investigative team.


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