The end of UNITAD’s mission in Iraq : a severe blow to accountability for sexual violence committed by ISIL

The end of UNITAD’s mission in Iraq  : a severe blow to accountability for sexual violence committed by ISIL
Destruction of a city under ISIL’ Caliphate. Photo from Ali Wannous, 2022, via Pexel


Oona Carteron

Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

The scope of the devastation in Iraq reached worldwide significance and media attention as reports of civilian casualties, mass displacement, and human rights abuses committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Daesh), triggered widespread condemnation and concern globally. The proclamation of the Caliphate and the subsequent period of occupation by ISIL shed light on the organisation’s brutal tactics, such as mass executions, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement of minority groups, which shocked the world. The group's use of social media to broadcast its atrocities amplified the global impact of its actions. In this context, Resolution 2379 established the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by ISIL (UNITAD) on September 21, 2017. Its purpose was to support Iraq in holding ISIL accountable for the crimes committed during its occupation of parts of Iraq.

The mandate of UNITAD included collecting, preserving, and storing evidence of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by ISIL. It aimed to promote accountability by assisting the Iraqi authorities in their efforts to hold perpetrators accountable through fair and transparent trials in accordance with international standards. However, six years and ten reports later, Resolution 2697 of the Security Council stated that the mission was to be renewed for only a year and will thus terminate in September, 2024. It should be noted that although reports show that evidence of atrocities have been piling up, no member of ISIL has been charged with any violation of international law. Part of the reason for this lack of action is the absence of any national legislative framework pertaining to international crimes in Iraq. Many, including Christian Ritscher, head of UNITAD’s investigation team, have stated that their work was far from over and that the mission needed more time, while Iraqi officials deplore Unitad’s inability to efficiently collaborate with the national government.

Beyond the UN mission’s mandate, the Iraqi case is a perfect illustration of the lack of accountability of non-state actors regarding the commission of sexual violence in armed conflicts. Indeed, many amongst the Iraqi population, especially gender or ethnic minorities have expressed their despair, eagerness for justice and suffering when faced with the lack of accountability for the horrors perpetrated during the war. Furthermore, the Iraqi state has been reluctant to trial ISIS’ members for crimes, such as slavery and sexual abuse, fearing that it might spill-over to its own ranks and has instead focused on punishing affiliation with the organisation. Women were among Daesh’ most targeted group with Yézidi women, in particular, suffering rape, abduction, sexual slavery and trafficking. Regardless of their belonging to a particular community, women suffered forced conversions, were systematically gang raped, detained, mutilated while their freedom of speech, movement or their ability to access education or any sort of freedom was obliterated. 

One of the lingering questions and obstacles remains the matter of the death penalty. Indeed, although the mission’s work could prove vital in convicting members of ISIL, activists, diplomats and investigators fear that the evidence gathered since 2017 can be used by the Iraqi government in botched trials that could conclude with a death penalty. The misuse and abuses of the mechanisms put in place by UNITAD could very well lead to the prosecution of Iraqi militia members, dissidents or other armed groups. 


1- Baban, B. (2024, March 13).  La fin du mandat de l’UNITAD en Irak : une mission incomplète. Centre Français de recherche sur l'Irak (CFRI), Consulted on March 3, 2024 

2- ONU Info, (2022, June 9). L’UNITAD présente au Conseil de sécurité les progrès réalisés dans le cadre de ses enquêtes sur les crimes de Daech. ONU Info, Consulted on March 4, 2024