In Pursuit of Justice: Investigating ISIL’s Crimes against Iraq’s Christians
01 September 2023
Erbil 01 September 2023: As a part of its continued cooperation and engagement with the impacted Iraqi communities, the United Nations Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) organized a conference in Erbil for Christian community leaders.
The conference gathered over 30 Christian community leaders with UNITAD’s dedicated units investigating ISIL crimes against the Christian community, including the destruction of Christian religious sites. Also joining were representatives of the international community, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Hungary and the European Union.
Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD, Christian Ritscher commended the Christian community leaders, saying that: “ Your togetherness and your resilience are inspirational, not just to the Christian community in Iraq, but also to us at UNITAD.” He further added that: “ISIL's ideology thrived on violence, sparing neither the people of Iraq nor their diverse cultures and beliefs…As we work in pursuit of justice for all victims and survivors, those who suffered from ISIL's atrocities, we keep in heart and mind one of UNITAD’s core principles: there is no hierarchy in victims.”
Special Adviser Ritscher highlighted that the Team’s investigations have strengthened findings on crimes: “including the destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Mosul and the Ninawa plains, where ISIL perpetrators targeted churches, monasteries, cemeteries, manuscripts, Christian symbols and artwork in barbaric attacks, rooted in hate and inhumanity.” Special Adviser Ritscher also addressed progress that was made in the development of individual case files for ISIL members in relation to crimes committed in Hamdaniyah, including a high-level ISIL member associated with the Diwan of Spoils, mentioning that: “The identities of these ISIL members are corroborated by testimonial evidence, ISIL internal documents and case files provided by the Iraqi judiciary.”
He further reiterated his gratitude for the close partnership with the Team’s counterparts in the Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government, and extended his thanks to the US and France for the generous funding to UNITAD’s investigations into ISIL crimes against the Christian community and the destruction of cultural heritage.
H.E. Mr. Safeen Dizayee, Head of Department of Foreign Relations at KRI and H.E. Dr. Dindar Zebari, KRG Coordinator for International Advocacy took part in the opening segment, stressing the KRG’s and the collective dedication in seeking justice for the victims of ISIL crimes.
At their end, H.E. Mr. Mark Stroh, U.S. Consul General, and H.E. French Acting Consul General, Mr. Rodolphe Richard both reiterated their countries’ support to UNITAD’s investigations, including investigations of crimes against the Christian community and other minorities in Iraq, and ISIL’s destruction of religious and cultural heritage.
During the conference, UNITAD lead investigators offered a detailed update on the progress of the Team’s investigations into ISIL international crimes against the Christian community in Iraq, while experts presented on modern tools and methodologies used in investigating international crimes which are used to enhance UNITAD’s core investigations.
The participating Christian leaders shared their insights and recommendations for the Investigative Team on how best to further enhance cooperation, gathering of evidence, and soliciting witness accounts. They all stressed the importance of recognizing and documenting the international crimes committed by ISIL against the Christian community in Iraq, to enable holding ISIL perpetrators accountable in court of law.
Building on this conference, UNITAD’s investigators will be able to lead further engagements with the Christian community thanks to the openness and cooperation exhibited by the participating Christian leaders.
To read the full opening remarks of Special Adviser Christian Ritscher, please click here.