Syrian forces excavate a site, said to be a mass grave, in the west of Raqqa governorate in December last year.

More than 200 mass graves containing the remains of thousands of people killed by Islamic State have been discovered in northern and western Iraq, according to a UN report released on Tuesday, 5 November.

The report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and UN Human Rights Office documents the existence of 202 mass graves in the governorates of Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din and Anbar.

The report emphasises that the evidence gathered will be critical in prosecuting Islamic State militants for war crimes committed against civilians but also in helping families to find out what happened to those who have gone missing, said the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR).

In support of bereaved families, the report called for a centralised registry of missing persons as well as the creation of a federal Office of Missing Persons.

“Meaningful truth and justice requires the appropriate preservation, excavation and exhumation of mass grave sites and the identification of the remains of the many victims and their return to the families,” the report said.

To bring this about, the report called on the international community for more resources and technical support.

IS invaded Iraq in 2014 and waged a three-year-long campaign of terror against non-Muslims, forcing most of its population, including Christians in the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq, to flee for their lives. Thousands of others were tortured or killed.

In March security forces discovered the remains of 40 Christians in a mass grave in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. After capturing the city in 2014, IS had warned Christians to “leave or face execution”.

In July, Human Rights Watch called for more support in unearthing several mass graves in and around the city of Raqqa in northern Syria, containing the remains of thousands of bodies of civilians killed by IS, residents killed in airstrikes and of IS militants themselves.