UN urges Iraq to adopt war crimes laws to prosecute Islamic State fighters

Ample evidence uncovered of movement’s widespread persecution of Yazidi minority and other ethnic minorities

International outrage stirred by the widely televised plight of the Yazidis and the conquest of Mosul compelled the US-led western powers to intervene with the aim of crushing Islamic State. Photograph: Adam Ferguson/The New York Times

International outrage stirred by the widely televised plight of the Yazidis and the conquest of Mosul compelled the US-led western powers to intervene with the aim of crushing Islamic State. Photograph: Adam Ferguson/The New York Times

 

United Nations investigators have urged Iraq’s new government to adopt war crimes laws to prosecute Islamic State fighters for atrocities against civilians during the movement’s seizure of power in that country.

With the aid of the Iraqi judiciary, the UN team dealing with crimes against the Yazidi minority has collected more than two million call data records from service providers, team leader Karim A Khan told the Associated Press. He said the records provide evidence which will stand up in court and sustain convictions “beyond reasonable doubt”.

The team and Iraqi intelligence agents are also collecting witness testimonies and data from mobile phones and computers abandoned when Islamic State fighters fled during the offensive to drive them from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul during 2016-2017.

Mass graves are being found with the help of 3D technology. More than 300 suspects have been identified, some living in Iraq.

“We are trying to build case files that can be properly prosecuted and adjudicated in Iraq or in third countries,” said Mr Khan.

During June 2014, Islamic State fighters crossed into northern Iraq from Syria, killed thousands of Yazidi men, enslaved women, forcibly converted children to Islam and made boys serve as fighters. The movement’s goal was to eradicate the community and, in the view of some legal experts, amounted to genocide.

The ethnic Kurdish Yazidis were targeted because many Sunni Muslims mistakenly regard and persecute them as “devil worshipers” although they adhere to a monotheistic faith and belief in one God and denounce the devil. Yazidis were an easy target since they were concentrated in the mountainous Sinjar region in northwestern Iraq near the border with Syria.

International outrage stirred by the widely televised plight of the Yazidis and the conquest of Mosul compelled the US-led western powers to intervene with the aim of crushing Islamic State, although its brutality had been displayed during a year-long occupation of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.

While Islamic State strongholds in Iraq have fallen and survivors have been driven from remaining redoubts in Syria, fugitive fighters continue to carry out attacks in both countries.

Other UN teams are dealing with war crimes against Sunni, Christian, and other Iraqi minorities and with the slaughter of 1,600-1,700 Iraqi air force cadets at a camp at Tikrit.

Human rights organisations have criticised the current Iraqi practice of conducting summary trials for Islamic State members under anti-terrorism laws which do not cover genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, which are unrecognised in Iraqi law.

Formed last month, prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government has been fully occupied with the country’s economic crisis, mass protests and Covid-19 and has not, apparently, finalised proposed war crimes legislation.

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