Iraq is asking the U.N. Security Council for assistance in collecting evidence to prosecute extremists from the Islamic State group for possible crimes against humanity.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres circulated Wednesday that his government and the United Kingdom are working on a draft Security Council resolution seeking assistance.
It was sent more than five months after human rights lawyer Amal Clooney urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send a letter to the council so it can vote to set up an investigation into crimes by ISIS militants in Iraq.
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Clooney represents victims of ISIS rapes and kidnappings from Iraq's Yazidi community. The lawyer, who is the wife of actor George Clooney, said in early March that the world's nations must not let ISIS "get away with genocide."
Amal Clooney on Wednesday welcomed al-Jaafari's letter as an important first step to bring ISIS members to justice. But she cautioned that it will only be meaningful if the Security Council acts promptly so evidence can be collected of crimes by ISIS.
"Yazidis and other ISIS victims want justice in a court of law, and they deserve nothing less," Clooney said in a statement. "I hope that the Iraqi government's letter will mark the beginning of the end of impunity for genocide and other crimes that ISIS is committing in Iraq and around the world."
Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador, Jonathan Allen, said the United Kingdom is delighted the Iraqi government's letter makes clear it wants accountability. He noted that Iraq, Britain and Belgium launched a campaign last September to prosecute ISIS crimes.
Allen said London will work to put forward a resolution to achieve accountability, "leaving no hiding place for Daesh anywhere."
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters: "Of course we'll support it — (but) we'll have to see the resolution."
Britain's U.N. ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said in March that the aim of a Security Council resolution would be to assist Iraq "with the difficult but crucial challenge of preserving the huge amount of evidence of Daesh crimes committed on Iraqi territory."
In the letter, Al-Jaafari praised Iraq's armed forces for recently liberating the city of Mosul from "the Daesh terrorist organization" and for "brilliant military victories with the support and cooperation of the international coalition."
"The crimes committed by the Daesh terrorist organization against civilians and destruction of infrastructure and archaeological sites in Iraq are crimes against humanity, which makes it important to bring its perpetrators from Daesh terrorist gangs to justice, in accordance (with) the Iraqi law," he said.
In this light, al-Jaafari said, "we request assistance of the international community to get benefited from international expertise to criminalize Daesh terrorist entity."
The foreign minister underlined Iraq's "sovereignty and jurisdiction" in both negotiating and implementing any Security Council resolution.
A council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Wednesday that work on a resolution was just getting started.
In March, Clooney said it was initially Iraq's idea to involve the United Nations and she told the Iraqi prime minister that sending a letter "would silence those who doubt your commitment to bring Daesh to justice."
If no letter is forthcoming, she said, the Security Council could act without Iraq's consent or it could refer the extremist group to the International Criminal Court, or the General Assembly could establish "an accountability mechanism" as it did for crimes in Syria in December. The secretary-general could also launch an investigation, she said.
Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor and U.N. goodwill ambassador, said Wednesday she was grateful to Iraq for taking a first step toward justice.
"Victims deserve a meaningful accountability mechanism in which they trust and I hope the Security Council resolution will reflect that," she said in a statement.