Special Adviser and head of Unitad Christian Ritscher
Special Adviser and head of Unitad Christian Ritscher

UN readies archive to illuminate Islamic State crimes in Iraq

The United Nations (UN) is preparing to inaugurate a comprehensive central archive that comprises millions of digitized documents, providing irrefutable proof of the crimes perpetrated by the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq, a UN official shared on Wednesday.

The initiative is the product of rigorous fieldwork by the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (Unitad), a unit established to probe IS transgressions in the nation, with the overarching goal of holding the jihadists accountable.

“Only if we work side by side with Iraqi authorities, particularly with our counterparts in the Iraqi judiciary, can Unitad be successful,” declared Christian Ritscher, the UN’s chief investigator. Ritscher, a former German prosecutor, has been navigating a torrent of IS atrocities, spanning murder, torture, mass rape, slavery, and even genocide.

He apprised the UN Security Council of the strides made by his team in their 10th report, noting that success would be defined by holding perpetrators of “heinous international crimes” accountable via “evidence-based trials and before competent courts.” Ritscher underscored the need for “admissible and reliable evidence,” adding, “there is no shortage of evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq.”

Ritscher explained that the IS was a large-scale bureaucracy that meticulously documented and maintained an administrative system akin to a state’s. Hence, Unitad has embarked on an ambitious project to digitize IS documents, ensuring that this evidence is admissible in any competent court in Iraq or elsewhere.

So far, the project has digitized eight million pages of documents held by Iraqi authorities, including Kurdish authorities. These documents have already proven instrumental in the Iraqi judicial system. Ritscher announced the next objective: “establishing a central archive that will be the unified repository of all digitized evidence.”

In collaboration with Iraqi authorities, Ritscher said the archive would be launched “in the coming days,” based at the Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq. He suggested that the repository “could be a milestone to founding a comprehensive e-justice system in Iraq,” potentially serving as an exemplar not only regionally, but globally.

IS jihadists, after their swift rise to power in 2014, momentarily controlled a third of Iraqi territory. Although Iraq declared victory against IS in December 2017, it wasn’t until March 2019 that the extremist jihadist group disintegrated, losing its final stronghold in neighboring Syria.

The advent of this central archive signals a significant advance in holding accountable those responsible for the atrocities committed during the reign of IS.