Ten Years Gone

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A United Nations mission set up to aid Iraq in probing alleged crimes by Islamic State (IS, also known as Daesh) militants will end its operations prematurely later this year following disagreements with the Iraqi government, an exit that has raised questions about the prosecution of militant fighters and justice for their victims, Reuters reported.

In an interview with the news agency this week, Christian Ritscher, head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh (UNITAD), said the mission will end in mid-September, adding that their work was not finished.

He cited a series of challenges and legal uncertainties while cooperating with Iraqi authorities that contributed to the mission’s premature end.

In contrast, Iraqi officials countered that the UN mission was no longer needed, saying that it had failed to cooperate with local authorities and “didn’t respond to repeated requests for sharing evidence.”

The mission was set up in 2017 to help Iraqi authorities investigate war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the terrorist group during its rampage across Syria and Iraq in 2014.

The mission’s work contributed to at least three convictions on charges of genocide and other international crimes in courts in Germany and Portugal.

In September, the UN Security Council renewed UNITAD’s mandate for one more year following a request by Iraq.

Meanwhile, diplomats and sources acknowledged that difficulties and disagreements plagued the relationship between UNITAD and the government of Iraq. They explained that the country’s use of the death penalty – which goes against UN policy – made UNITAD reluctant to share information with Iraqi authorities.

During the interview, Richter noted that the UN mission was “in a waiting position” because Iraq did not pass legislation that would allow it to aid authorities in holding IS members accountable for international crimes.

He added that officials also did not hold discussions to place safeguards on the use of capital punishment. This put UNITAD in the difficult position of collecting evidence in Iraq – but mainly using it in legal processes abroad.

Even so, diplomatic sources told Reuters that Ritscher and UNITAD failed to take into account Iraqi politics while dealing with Iraqi authorities, an omission that harmed the relationship.

As the mission’s end approaches, analysts and victims wondered about the fate of the evidence UNITAD had gathered and whether Iraq would be able to deliver justice for the victims.

Some diplomats and human rights advocates worry that Iraqi officials will misuse the evidence for trials with little due process, adding that a majority of convictions have been for membership of a terrorist organization, rather than specific crimes, such as sexual slavery.

Razaw Salihy of Amnesty International complained that flaws in the Iraqi justice system “have landed thousands of men and boys on death row via confessions extracted under torture, duress and other kinds of ill-treatment.”

Iraq has denied obtaining confessions via coercion.

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