Critics have bemoaned the slow progress made by an investigative team of the UN Security Council but the agency outlined solid gains made in recent months.

NEW YORK — A United Nations-backed investigation into Daesh abuses in Iraq will reach a “milestone” in the coming weeks by helping to prosecute a captured member of the group, the head of the unit said on Monday.

Speaking in New York, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, head of the so-called UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Daesh (UNITAD), said he was working to ensure the abusers faced justice.

“It is my hope that within the next two months the team will have provided tangible support with respect to at least one ongoing case before national courts, marking an important milestone in the delivery of our mandate,” Khan told the UN Security Council.

UNITAD gathers evidence of atrocities by Daesh or ISIS fighters in Iraq to help prosecutors in Iraq and beyond secure convictions in courts. Khan did not say where the upcoming case would be held; and UN spokesman Farhan Haq declined TRT World’s request for more information.

Critics have bemoaned the slow progress made by UNITAD since it was created by the UN Security Council in September 2017; but Khan outlined solid gains that his team had made in recent months.

Investigators are exhuming mass graves in Iraq and are focused on three areas — the massacre of Iraqi cadets at Tikrit Air Academy in June 2014, atrocities in Sinjar in August 2014, and a pattern of abuses in Mosul between 2014-2016, said Khan.

They are also gathering witness testimonies from Yezidis, Shias, Christians, Kaka’is, Shabaks, Sunnis, Turkmen and others who faced violence, sexual slavery and other abuses as Daesh swept across the Syrian border into Iraq in 2014, he said. 

UNITAD now has 79 staffers and has moved out of a hotel into permanent offices in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. It has bought DNA, other forensics gear and computer systems for storing hundreds of thousands of videos and Daesh documents, said Khan.

In the past two weeks, investigators have gained access to some 600,000 videos of Daesh crimes and more than 15,000 pages of internal Daesh documents “obtained from the battlefield by leading investigative journalists”, said Khan.

But, the British lawyer warned that the team must do more than just “establish an archive”.

“The collection of evidence in itself does not represent satisfaction … we must ensure that our work contributes … tangibly to domestic accountability efforts,” Khan told the 15-nation UN body on Monday.

“The investigative team has held in-depth discussions in recent months in order to identify and strengthen potential channels for evidence collected by the team to feed into domestic proceedings in Iraq.”

Khan thanked Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Sweden for sending investigators to the team and for paying their wages, and said he was optimistic about more progress at talks in Qatar later this year.

There are an estimated 55,000 captured Daesh fighters detained in Syria and Iraq, including many alleged foreign fighters from some 50 countries and 11,000 family members held at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria. 

World powers have struggled to find a comprehensive way prosecute Daesh suspects. Western governments have been unwilling to repatriate their foreign fighters, while courtrooms in Iraq and Syria are stretched to capacity.

Prosecutions of Daesh suspects by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and by Iraqi authorities have faced criticism. UNITAD was tasked with helping make prosecutions in Iraq meet international standards.

Susan Dickson, Britain’s legal adviser at the UN, said the team was making “important progress” and called for the “greatest possible use of evidence collected in Iraqi domestic proceedings” against former Daesh militiamen. 

“We commend the team’s approach in emphasising there is no hierarchy of victims and the recognition that all Iraqis suffered at the hands of Daesh,” Dickson told the Security Council, using an alternate name for Daesh. 

“This would constitute a remarkable step forward for promoting accountability for survivors and the families of Daesh’s victims.” 

The UN has described the massacre of the Yazidis by Daesh jihadists as possible genocide and UN investigators have documented horrific accounts of abuse suffered by women and girls at the hands of Daesh.

Their cause has been championed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.