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Iraq

UN, Iraq to begin exhuming Kocho mass grave, first in Shingal

By Rudaw 14/3/2019
A man weeps beside a mass grave in the Shingal area in June 2018. File photo: Rudaw
A man weeps beside a mass grave in the Shingal area in June 2018. File photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – As ISIS militants face their end on the battlefield in Baghouz, eastern Syria, victims of the extremists will see a long-awaited step on the road to justice when investigators begin work to exhume mass graves in the Shingal area on Friday. 

The United Nations team investigating ISIS crimes in Iraq (UNITAD) will exhume a mass grave in Kocho village. This is the first exhumation in the Shingal area where there are 35 known mass grave sites. Across Iraq, there are at least 200 mass graves left behind by ISIS’ reign of terror, holding the remains of thousands. 

“UNITAD recognises the patience and resilience of the survivors and their families, who have waited so long for this process to begin. The road towards accountability is a long one, and many challenges lay ahead,” said British lawyer Karim Khan who heads up the investigative team on Thursday.

In the village of Kocho alone, hundreds of men, adolescent boys, and older women were killed in August 2014 while more than 700 women and children were seized by ISIS. One of the women abducted from Kocho was Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and survivor of ISIS. Members of her family are believed to be buried in mass graves in her home village. 

In a statement issued jointly with her lawyer Amal Clooney, she welcomed the start of exhumations.

“This step answers our long-standing call for meaningful action in relation to the many mass graves discovered in Sinjar since the region was liberated from ISIS,” they stated, using another name for Shingal. 

They urged involvement of the Yezidi community in the process, saying survivors and relatives must be consulted and kept informed of the exhumations, how the remains will be treated, and “procedure for the repatriation of remains to their families to allow their burial in accordance with Yazidi religious rites.”

According to UNITAD, Yezidi religious leaders will hold a memorial ceremony before the exhumation begins. 

For Yezidis unable to mourn their dead properly – or even confirm who is buried in the mass graves – the genocide is ongoing. 

Family members of victims believed to be lying in the mass graves have repeatedly called for action, especially after heavy rains and flooding have washed away some of the remains. 

UNITAD was established at the request of Baghdad to help with the enormous challenge of documenting ISIS crimes to an international standard such that the evidence can be used in court. The investigative team has received backing from political and religious leaders across Iraq. 

The exhumation work on Friday will be done by the Ministry of Health with the “guidance and support” of UNITAD.

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