New York, UNITAD’s innovative and technology–focused approach to the collection and analysis of evidence of ISIL crimes was welcomed by United Nations Member States in an Arria Formula Meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday last week, chaired by the United Kingdom.
At the event, two key pillars of innovation were highlighted: the use of advanced technology to exploit mass data collection; and applying a trauma-informed approach to all aspects of contacts with witnesses and survivors.
At the opening of the meeting, Special Adviser Karim A. A. Khan QC introduced a video outlining a range of technologies the Team, including 3-D modeling of crime scenes, excavation of mass graves, and the use of advanced search technologies to, in particular, ISIL documents. Referencing the presence of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Ms. Nadia Murad, Special Adviser Khan noted that “what you will see today is not a movie or fictional account, but real life. The village you will see, is Nadia’s village, the school you will see was Nadia’s school”. The Special Adviser highlighted how UNITAD had used technology to take these crimes scenes and bring them to national courtrooms globally.
Ms. Murad acknowledged the progress of investigations, observing that “if you had told me when the Security Council was debating UNITAD’s creation that I would be able to burry my brothers within four years, I would not have believed you”. She further noted “For true justice and reconciliation, survivors must see that due process is upheld in Iraqi courts… and that survivors are included in this process every step of the way.”
Also addressing the continued imperative to hold ISIL members accountable for their crimes, Ms. Amal Clooney, Counsel for ISIL victims, noted that ISIL had not tried to hide its crimes but had in fact publicized them widely, underlining that innovative uses of technology adopted by UNITAD could be used to exploit this digital record of ISIL’s crimes. Noting that UNITAD had now finalized its initial case–brief in relation to crimes against the Yazidi community and found clear and convincing evidence of genocide, Ms. Clooney underscored “that this investigation was always meant to be the beginning, not the end”, and called on states “that believe in human rights to commit to holding international trials”.
Justin Spelhaug, Vice-President of Tech for Social Impact Group, Microsoft Corporation described its partnership with UNITAD in the development of the “Zeteo Project”, leading to the development of cutting-edge tools using artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify those responsible for ISIL crimes. Mr. Spelhaug noted that the opportunities presented by the application of such technologies in criminal investigations were vast, emphasizing that “the common thread that binds these efforts is our focus on using AI to seek truth and actionable insight in an ocean of data so that investigators, researchers, front line providers and policy makers can take more effective action. Our work with UNITAD really personifies [the] objective of seeking truth and actionable insight and data”. He expressed his hope “that these efforts can be shared with others and the collective learnings that have been gained can be used to deliver accountability and justice for other important international criminal investigations”.
Dr. Daryn Reicherter of Stanford University described the partnership with UNITAD in developing and implementing a trauma–informed approach to engagement with survivors. He noted that addressing the needs of those who have suffered trauma is not only the correct approach from a medical and normative perspective, but was also essential in ensuring survivors are empowered to provide the most effective testimony possible.
Member States welcomed UNITAD’s innovative approaches in the implementation of its mandate and underlined their commitment to continue to support its work. A number of States noted the pioneering nature of some of the working practices of UNITAD, emphasizing that these good practices should be implemented more broadly.
Special Adviser Khan concluded the meeting by noting the Security Council’s strong and unified support for UNITAD, which provides the foundation for strengthening efforts to prosecute ISIL members for their crimes. The Special Adviser stated “I would simply, and with the greatest humility, suggest to all members of the United Nations to look at the legal option that you know exists, look at the legal tools that are available, open the doors that you know are there. You have identified consensus. You have identified this common ground. With the greatest of respect, hold on to it, stand on it, build on it.”

Source: United Nations Iraq