Providing the Support Necessary to Fulfil International Investigative Mandates

As part of our project Anchoring Accountability for Mass Atrocities, the Oxford Programme on International Peace and Security is convening a series of in-depth, technical workshops aimed to provide policy-oriented, evidence-backed, and realistic recommendations to advise on the permanent support needed to fulfil international investigative mandates. 

One of the most significant developments in international criminal justice in the past four years has been the establishment of a new generation of UN accountability mechanisms, e.g. the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM), the International Independent Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), and the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/ISIL (UNITAD). Significant differences in mandate, jurisdiction, resources, and operational realities distinguish these novel investigative mechanisms (NIMs) from one another. Yet, all three share an explicit (and innovative) mandate to collect, collate and analyse evidence of international crimes (committed in Syria, Myanmar, and Iraq by Daesh/ISIL respectively) according to criminal justice standards, and make this evidence available for domestic or international prosecutions.

The establishment of these mechanisms marks the culmination of a significant trend, in the past ten or so years, that we have defined an ‘accountability turn in UN fact-finding’. Indeed, over the past ten years, there has been an increased willingness of States to support resolutions within several bodies of the United Nations (among them, the Human Rights Council, which set up the IIMM, and most existing and past UN Fact-Finding Missions (FFMs) and Commissions of Inquiry (CoIs); the General Assembly, which set up the IIIM, and the Security Council, which set up UNITAD) to establish entities to investigate situations where there appear to have been serious violations of international human rights (IHRL), humanitarian (IHL), and criminal law (ICL). 

This ‘accountability turn’ has meant that most mandate holders (MHs) supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are now not only tasked with their traditional human rights investigations and reporting but also (as can be seen in the respective mandates of the CoIs on SyriaLibyaVenezuelaBurundiNorth KoreaSouth Sudan; the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen; and the Myanmar FFM, among others, which we collectively refer to as UN HRIs) with ‘identifying those responsible’ and laying the foundation for future criminal accountability

Our research asks:

  1. How can these novel mechanisms be best supported to continue their important work?
  2. What more can and should States do to enable and facilitate their work? What challenges do they continue to encounter? 
  3. But also, how can we build on the momentum generated by their creation to be sure that the progress achieved is seized upon and anchored, so that all UN human rights inquiries, when conferred such mandates, are equipped to fulfil them?

The Workshop Programme, List of Participants and Background Papers are available here.

You can read more about our preliminary findings in a series of blog posts published on Opinio Juris

  1. Anchoring Accountability for Mass Atrocities: Providing the Support Necessary to Fulfil International Investigative Mandates (18 September 2020)
  2. Anchoring Accountability for Mass Atrocities: Perspectives from the Civil Society (19 September 2020)
  3. Anchoring Accountability for Mass Atrocities: Perspectives from Prosecutors (19 September 2020)