UNITAD, the UN's investigative team to promote accountability for crimes committed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has launched a new online platform to receive the testimonies of survivors and eyewitnesses.
The online platform is the second phase of the team's work, said Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for Iraq's Independent High Commission for Human Rights.
The first phase was devoted to the collection of evidence, through the exhumation of mass graves of ISIS victims killed while the group controlled vast areas in northern and western Iraq, he told Diyaruna.
The web platform aims to collect the testimonies of ISIS survivors as well as those of eyewitnesses who lived in ISIS-controlled areas at the time, he said.
It was launched as the team is not able to reach all the victims at this time, especially amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, he added.
The platform is easy to use, he said, and its web address has been widely circulated on websites and social media pages. It can be easily accessed, even with a weak internet connection.
The site includes input boxes for written testimony and also enables users to upload supporting attachments, he said.
In some cases, he added, the international team will reach out to the witnesses by means of a field visit or direct contact.
It is likely that important testimonies will be received via the platform, he said, as it is easy for witnesses to access and does not require them to go through the trouble of traveling to make a statement in person.
Challenges to information gathering
Despite the platform's potential, some ISIS survivors and terror group specialists have expressed doubts about its usefulness, pointing to a lack of familiarity with social media and the weakness of internet service in Iraq.
Dhi Qar province resident Mohammed al-Zaidi, who survived the Camp Speicher massacre in which ISIS executed more than 1,500 Iraqi air force cadets, said he had not heard of the new platform until he spoke with Diyaruna.
The platform's launch was not widely covered in the media, he said, and he does not believe that word has reached the street.
Dhi Qar Martyrs' Foundation director Muhannad Abdul Hussein told Diyaruna the online platform may be useful for those who have internet service and know how to use communication technology.
But he worried it would not be useful for hundreds of witnesses living in displacement camps where there is no internet service or access to advanced technology, such as computers or smart devices.
"If the international team wants to get real and important evidence," he suggested, "it must communicate with the local authorities and credible agencies, including the Martyrs' Foundation."
The Dhi Qar Martyrs' Foundation has piles of documents and evidence of ISIS crimes, he said, as do the Counter-Terrorism Service and other Iraqi institutions who fought the group and accumulated information about its crimes.
He also stressed the need to question ISIS elements in Iraqi prisons who are serving prison terms for terrorism offenses, as they may be able to provide the names of the group's leaders inside and outside the country.
The international team also should seek the assistance of Iraqi criminal investigation courts, Hussein said.
The international investigation team was formed pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution No. 2379 of 2017, with the aim of supporting Iraq's efforts to hold ISIS accountable for its crimes against Iraqis.