Desecrated church in Qaraqosh, Iraq (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Desecrated church in Qaraqosh, Iraq (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Campaigners for Christian and Yazidi victims of the Islamic State group welcomed a vote at the United Nations yesterday (21 September), hailed as a “milestone” in their efforts to bring perpetrators of atrocities to justice.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously to create an investigative team to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes committed against civilians by IS members.

The resolution was proposed by the UK and fully supported by Iraq. It asks the UN Secretary-General to establish an investigative team of experts, led by a special adviser, with a mandate to collect evidence of “acts that may amount to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity”, adding that “those responsible in this group for such acts … must be held accountable”.

The resolution adds that the special adviser will also promote the importance of holding IS accountable for its crimes globally.

Jan Figel, the EU special envoy on religious freedom, tweeted the news of the resolution, adding that justice was important for victims and religious minorities.

Campaigners for the victims of IS have wanted assurances that militants with European citizenship who have already left the Middle East will be adequately prosecuted for crimes they committed in Iraq and Syria.

The actions of IS against Yazidis, Christians and other minority groups have been declared genocide by Britain’s House of Commons, the European Parliament, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his predecessor John Kerry.

Before the 2016 vote at the European Parliament, ADF International, a religious freedom advocacy organisation, said the evidence of genocide “includes assassinations of church leaders, torture, mass murders, kidnapping, sexual enslavement and systematic rape of Christian and Yazidi girls and women, destruction of churches, monasteries, and cemeteries”.

Last month the Iraqi prime minister, Haider as-Abadi, and foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, wrote to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, asking for the international community to support Iraqi efforts to bring IS to justice.

The British Foreign Office said the resolution represented a concerted effort of coordinated global action to bring IS to justice for its crimes, and added that Britain will contribute £1 million ($1.3 million) towards the establishment of the UN’s investigative team.

The crossbench Catholic peer Lord Alton, who campaigned unsuccessfully for the House of Lords to recognise IS’s actions against Yazidis and Christians as “genocide”, welcomed the resolution but told World Watch Monitor it was “an incomplete measure” because only covered atrocities in Iraq and specified only one jihadi group.

However, he added: “It paves the way for perpetrators of the crime above all crimes to be brought to justice. That will ensure that that the countless victims will not be forgotten and that those responsible for appalling crimes against humanity will not be able to hide under a cloak of impunity.”

Ewelina Ochab, author of ‘Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East’, said yesterday’s vote was “a glimmer of hope”. In an article for Forbes, she wrote: “The newly established team is a small but significant first step towards achieving justice… We must remain hopeful that the survivors of the atrocities will see Daesh [the Arabic acronym for IS] fighters being brought to justice during their lifetime.”

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney told the BBC the result was “a milestone for the victims of ISIS”.

A communiqué from Yazda, the charity supporting Yazidis, described the Security Council’s action as “urgent and critical”, warning that “evidence is disappearing every day: mass graves are being contaminated, witnesses are becoming dispersed, documents lay uncollected and medical evidence is getting lost”.

Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, chairman of the Amar Foundation, which provides healthcare and psycho-social support for Iraqi minorities who have been enslaved by IS, said today: “The UN Security Council resolution is a magnificent step forward. The vile monsters of ISIS will be sleeping a lot less comfortably in their beds today.”