200 mass graves of 12,000 Isil victims found in Iraq - UN
More than 200 mass graves containing up to 12,000 victims have been found so far in Iraq that could hold vital evidence of war crimes by Isil, the UN said yesterday.
The United Nations in Iraq (UNAMI) and its human rights office said they had documented a total of 202 mass graves in parts of western and northern Iraq held by Isil between 2014 and 2017.
Even more sites could be uncovered in the months to come, the report warned, urging Iraqi authorities to properly preserve and excavate them to provide closure for victims' families.
"The mass grave sites documented in our report are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty," said the UN's representative in Iraq, Jan Kubis.
"Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice," he said.
Isil overran swathes of Iraq in 2014.
It executed fighters and civilians en masse and used other forms of repression to seize and keep territory in the country's north and west.
The mass graves may "contain critical forensic material" that could help uncover the details of these violations, as well as identify the victims, the UN said.
UN investigators in August began collecting evidence on war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide for Iraqi courts to use in trials of accused Isil militants.
Out of the 202 mass graves documented in the UN's new report, just 28 of them have been excavated and 1,258 bodies exhumed by Iraqi authorities.
Nearly half the total sites are in Nineveh province, where Isil's one-time Iraqi capital Mosul lies and where the jihadists committed mass atrocities against the Yezidi minority.
According to Iraq's high commission on human rights, more than 3,000 Yezidis remain missing in Nineveh, in addition to another 4,000 people.
The rest of the sites are distributed in the northern regions of Kirkuk and Salaheddin, or Anbar in the west.
Iraqis are still searching for answers on the more than one million people who went missing during the reign of strongman Saddam Hussein, which ended in the US's invasion in 2003.
Since then, thousands more have disappeared in bloody waves of sectarian violence, then as militias became prominent across the country, and most recently as Isil took over parts of Iraq.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that revealing the truth behind the mass graves would be "critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by Isil".
"Isil's horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines but the trauma of the victims' families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for," she said.
Separately yesterday it was reported that Iraq plans to increase its oil output and export capacity in 2019.
Iraq currently pumps around 4.6 million barrels per day.
This is second only to Saudi Arabia in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The bulk of Iraq's oil is exported via its southern terminals, which account for more than 95pc of state revenue.