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UN team reports new evidence against Islamic State in Iraq

By EDITH M. LEDERER | Associated Press | Published: May 18, 2020

UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. investigative team says it has made “significant progress” in collecting new sources of evidence in Iraq against Islamic State extremists, including over 2 million call records that should strengthen cases against perpetrators of crimes against the Yazidi minority in 2014.

The team also reported progress in its investigations of the mass killings of unarmed cadets and military personnel from the Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014 and crimes committed by Islamic State extremists in Mosul from 2014 to 2016.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council obtained by The Associated Press, the investigative team said it is continuing to engage with the Iraqi government on pending legislation that would allow the country to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide allegedly committed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIL.

“In the coming six months, the team will continue its work with the government of Iraq in order to capitalize on this opportunity, with a view to securing the commencement of domestic proceedings based on evidence collected by the team,” the report said.

The Islamic State group’s self-declared “caliphate” that once spanned a third of both Iraq and Syria, has been defeated on the ground but its fighters are still staging insurgent attacks.

The atrocities its fighters and supporters committed have left deep scars. Thousands of members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, mainly women and girls, were raped and enslaved, while men were killed. Suspected homosexuals were pushed off roofs to their deaths. Captured Americans and other Westerners were beheaded, and an unknown number of suspected opponents were killed.

A Security Council resolution backed by more than 60 countries to refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court was vetoed by both Russia and China in May 2014.

The General Assembly established an independent panel in December 2016 to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity in Syria.

In September 2017, the Security Council voted unanimously to ask the U.N. to establish an investigative team to help Iraq preserve evidence and promote accountability for what “may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide” committed by Islamic State extremists, both in Iraq and the Levant which includes Syria.

The latest report by the investigative team said that as a result of its expanded cooperation with the Iraqi judiciary, security services and Directorate of Military Intelligence, it stands “at a pivotal moment in its work.”

Cooperation with the Iraqi judiciary in obtaining call data records and with Iraqi security services in extracting and analyzing data from cellphones, SIM cards and mass storage devices previously used by ISIL “have the potential to represent a paradigm shift in the prosecution of ISIL members,” the investigators said.

The data has provided “access to a wide range of internal ISIL documents, cell data, videos and images,” they said.

The team said it is already identifying evidence that can fill gaps in ongoing proceedings as a result of the cell phone data as well as from putting documents held by Iraqi authorities in digital form, and using enhanced discovery and evidence-management systems.

In its investigation of attacks committed by IS against the Yazidis in Sinjar district in August 2014, the team said the recent receipt of more than 2 million call data records from Iraqi cell phone service providers “relevant to time periods and geographic locations connected to this investigation provides a significant opportunity to strengthen case files in relation to alleged perpetrators.”

As for the investigation into the mass killings at the Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014, the team said its work has been helped by continuing cooperation from the Iraqi national commission established to investigate the crimes, including reports on the exhumations and autopsies of victims. The team said it has also obtained accounts from survivors and is seeking additional call data records.

The investigators said cooperation with Iraqi domestic courts and non-governmental organizations has further advanced its collection of evidence of IS crimes in Mosul between 2014 and 2016. Exhumations at two mass grave sites close to Mosul that began in March have been temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 outbreak and “will provide a significant focus of upcoming investigative activity,” the team said.

Looking ahead, the team said it has established two additional field investigation units to look into crimes committed by IS against Christian, Kakai, Shaba, Sunni and Turkmen Shia communities in Iraq.

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