Delivering a summary of his first report to the Security Council, Special Adviser and head of the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh – the Arabic name for the extremist group ISIL which recently held sway over large parts of Iraq and Syria - said that the team can only be effective if it gains the trust of Iraqi society.
The team, said Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, must “operate as an independent, impartial and credible accountability mechanism, capable of conducting its work to the highest possible standards.”
Second, he said, was “the need to ensure that our work is carried out collaboratively and cooperatively with the Government of Iraq, with full respect for its national sovereignty and in a manner that harnesses the talents, and engenders the support, of all elements of Iraqi society.”
The team was set up following a September 2017 Security Council resolution in a bid to help domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable for their actions: Da’esh’s time in control of large areas of Iraq, between June 2014 and December 2017, has been described by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) as a “relentless campaign of terror and violence.”
During his September visit to the country, Mr. Khan heard first-hand from survivors of Da’esh violence, in testimony described as heart-wrenching, and stressed the need to ensure that they are protected, and that perpetrators of atrocities are brought to justice: “the loss suffered by these communities is profound. I realize that the wounds of sorrow remain open and that, even when there is healing, the scars will run deep.”
In his December statement to the Security Council, Mr. Khan paid tribute to the survivors who have suffered at the hands of Da’esh, and recognized the “tremendous courage and sacrifice already demonstrated by the people of Iraq in their efforts to defeat ISIL and bring justice for its victims,” adding that, since Da’esh has been driven from its strongholds, including its former stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria, “the scope and magnitude of its crimes has been exposed. Witness testimony has revealed a plethora of unimaginable abuses. Thousands, including women and children, have become victims and witnesses of its crimes.”
Working alongside the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMA), the UN human rights office, has documented the existence of 200 mass graves in the northern and western parts of the country, which may contain thousands of bodies, and it is believed that many more still remain to be discovered.