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UN team probing IS horrors urges Iraq to pass war crimes law

June 15, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this April 3, 2015 file photo, an Iraqi man prays for his slain relative, at the site of a mass grave, believed to contain the bodies of Iraqi soldiers killed by Islamic State group militants when they overran Camp Speicher military base, in Tikrit, Iraq. U.N. investigators have collected millions of call data records implicating Islamic State militants in atrocities committed in northern Iraq, but delays in passing a law to govern war crimes probes is hindering the pursuit of justice, according to the head of the investigation. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)
1 of 4
FILE - In this April 3, 2015 file photo, an Iraqi man prays for his slain relative, at the site of a mass grave, believed to contain the bodies of Iraqi soldiers killed by Islamic State group militants when they overran Camp Speicher military base, in Tikrit, Iraq. U.N. investigators have collected millions of call data records implicating Islamic State militants in atrocities committed in northern Iraq, but delays in passing a law to govern war crimes probes is hindering the pursuit of justice, according to the head of the investigation. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

BAGHDAD (AP) — U.N. investigators have collected millions of call data records implicating Islamic State militants in atrocities committed in Iraq, but delays in passing a law to govern war crimes trials could hinder the pursuit of justice, according to the head of the investigation.

Karim A. Khan leads the team charged with investigating IS atrocities committed against the Yazidi minority and other groups. His team has obtained over 2 million call data records from service providers with the help of Iraq’s judiciary, he told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday.

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The data will help geolocate suspects in the summer of 2014, when the extremists killed and enslaved thousands of Yazidis after sweeping across northern Iraq. He said the records provide evidence that is admissible in court and can prove criminal responsibility “beyond reasonable doubt.”

The records, along with witness testimony and other information, will allow the investigators to focus on those most responsible for the crimes that were committed, Khan said.

“We have targets,” he said. “We are trying to build case files that can be properly prosecuted and adjudicated in Iraq or in third states.”

The U.N. team is also working with Iraqi intelligence to extract data from cell phones and mass storage devices, including hard drives, left behind when IS members fled during operations to dislodge the group from the northern city of Mosul in 2016 and 2017.

Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group in December 2017. The extremists no longer control any territory in Iraq or neighboring Syria, but they have continued to carry out sporadic attacks in both countries.

Over 300 suspects have been identified in connection to the events in Sinjar, with some still residing in Iraq, Khan said, adding that the list of suspects is still growing. He said the use of 3D technology is helping with the analysis of mass grave sites.

Investigative teams were also established to look into IS crimes committed against fellow Sunni Muslims as well as other ethnic minorities, such as the Shabak, Kakai and Turkmen. Investigators are also looking into the IS massacre of hundreds of captured Iraqi air force cadets in June 2014.

But Khan said the investigators are still waiting for Iraq to pass a law developed by President Barham Salih, lawmakers and the judiciary, that would allow Iraqi courts to prosecute war crimes, calling it a “key piece in the jigsaw.”

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Legislative efforts have been set back by recent political turmoil, including mass protests in October that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, as well as the coronavirus outbreak.

“Now that we have a new government in place, I am hoping parliament will consider this Iraqi law in the next period of time,” Khan said. “That is going to be quite important for us.”

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government, sworn in last month, is grappling with an economic crises spurred by falling oil prices and the pandemic.

Suspected IS members are currently being prosecuted under Iraq’s terrorism laws in often hasty trials that have been criticized by rights groups. The law under consideration would bring trials in line with international laws governing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Those crimes are not currently recognized by Iraqi law.

“Ultimately, this is not just an academic exercise of giving a nice Security Council report,” Khan said. “We have victims and survivors that are waiting for justice.”

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