As the battle for Mosul rages, we need to remember that war crimes have driven this conflict. Gendered war crimes have been the hallmark of Daesh who have kidnapped women, published entire doctrines on the use of sex slaves, and thrown LGBTQI people off rooftops for their sexuality. There needs to be justice for those crimes. Their evidence needs to not be destroyed by the current offensive.
Rape has been used as a weapon of war; a war crime. It has been so widespread that it constitutes a crime against humanity. Furthermore, sexual violence has been used as constituent of genocide against the Yazidis. These crimes have been reported by the United Nations and many local and international activists.
The international nature of this conflict means there is the greatest scope for international justice for victims of these crimes. It has been reported that France is going to take Russia to the International Court of Justice for war crimes in the siege of Aleppo and the French prosecutor has been investigating Assad for war crimes since last September.
There have been repeated calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute. However, neither Iraq nor Syria is signatory to the Rome Statute. The ICC may still be able to prosecute if it was referred by the Security Council, but both Russia and China have so far vetoed any efforts to pass such a resolution. As such, the ICC does not have the jurisdiction.
At the peak of Daesh's power, some 30 000 foreign fighters filled their ranks. Many of these fighters came from places where war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are outlawed in domestic legislation. The principle of complementarity of the International Criminal Court means that countries who have signed the Rome Statute and have the willingness and ability must investigate and prosecute these crimes. Finland and Sweden have already bought cases against their nationals. It is time countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and Belgium do so too.
However, investigation and prosecution of international crimes is incredibly difficult. Even when a competent authority has jurisdiction, gathering of evidence is problematic in a war zone, thousands of miles from home.
In 2014, Angelina Jolie and William Hague launched the International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Since then, the Foreign Office has developed training for the implementation of best practice for documenting sexual violence as a crime in conflict.
Yazidi activist, Ameena Saeed Hasan has called on planners of the Mosul offensive to consider Daesh's 1400 captives in their operational planning. US Ambassador to the United Nations, Sarah Mendelson, has said the announcement of the Mosul offensive ahead of time allowed Daesh to hide its captives. As such, it is all the more important to ensure considerations of investigation and evidence are integrated into the planning and conduct of military operations currently underway in Iraq.
Australia, the US and other nations supporting the Iraqi military have national action plans on women, peace and security. These action plans are based on the suite of UN Security Council resolutions that oblige member states to protect women from the effects of armed conflict (particularly sexual violence) and ensure their participation in conflict prevention, mitigation and recovery.
These resolutions identify sexual violence not only as a crime against humanity or constituent of genocide, but also a threat to international peace and security. Security Council Resolution 2106 "affirms that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a method or tactic of war or as part of a widespread or systemic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate and prolong situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security".
This time last year, the Security Council passed resolution 2242, reiterating the need for "implementation of relevant obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law".
That resolution also "called for the greater integration by member states and the United Nations of their agendas on women, peace and security, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism".
As such, it is absolutely imperative that the documentation and investigation of international crimes be fully considered in the planning, conduct and transition activities undertaken by security forces in Mosul. It is necessary for us to meet our obligations under international law, within the Security Council resolutions and within our own policy documents.