"I found myself under a pile of dead bodies," begins the somber Yazidi man named Kachi, speaking of the day Islamic State fighters terrorized his village in Iraq. "When I opened my eyes, I saw three of my brothers. They were next to me, they were dead. So were my nephews and cousins."
Stories like Kachi's are no longer unfamiliar. The atrocities committed by the terror group as it pillaged Iraq and Syria in the last five years have been well-documented, including murder, rape and enslavement. Survivors are now fighting back, seeking justice and accountability for themselves and for the massacre of their families and their communities.
"I survived by God's will, to be a witness of the hideous crimes committed by the terrorist group of ISIL against the defenseless Yazidis," Kachi told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday via video link from Iraq, using an acronym for the group.
He recounted the horrors perpetrated on the 1,500 residents of his village of Kocho over 12 days in August 2014. By his account, only 19 people survived the terrorist siege.
In addition to his brothers, nephews and cousins, his 90-year-old stepmother was killed with dozens of other elderly villagers deemed useless to IS. His wife and two daughters were taken captive. The youngest, 3-month-old Lara, died from hunger and dehydration during captivity.
In all, Kachi said he lost 75 members of his family.
"I am still suffering from psychological harm to this day, despite the passage of five years," he told the world. "I can still remember the remains of my brothers and my nephews and I can still hear them calling my name. Five years have passed and I can still hear my wife and my daughters screaming when IS kidnapped them. … My life is still extremely hard."
He addressed the United Nations' most powerful body to tell members how important the work of the U.N. Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant — or UNITAD — is in helping Yazidis and others affected by IS move forward, and to prevent similar atrocities happening again in the future.
The Security Council created UNITAD in 2017 to support Iraq's efforts in holding IS members accountable for potential war crimes through the collection, preservation and storage of evidence in line with international standards for future trials.
UNITAD chief Karim Asad Ahmad Khan told the council that after arriving in Iraq one year ago, his team is now fully operational, with 107 experts possessing critical equipment and evidence management facilities up and running.
"The courage demonstrated by these survivors in coming forward with their accounts serves to underline the urgency with which the investigative team must undertake its work," he said.
Khan said his investigators are making significant progress in the field, collecting documentary, digital, testimonial and forensic evidence.
"Based on these activities, the investigative team has identified a number of individual ISIL members as primary investigative targets in relation to each of our structural investigations," Khan said. "For example, in the context of our investigation in relation to the attacks committed against the Yazidi community in Sinjar, we have identified over 160 perpetrators and have now focused our work so as to build case files that may be presented to appropriate courts."
Khan welcomed the full cooperation of the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government with UNITAD's work.
"In a significant development, the government of Iraq has also taken purposeful steps towards the introduction of legislation allowing for the prosecution of acts committed by ISIL as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide," he said.
"Justice must be swift for the victims of the crimes of Daesh," Iraqi Ambassador Mohammad Hussein Ali Bahr Aluloom said, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. "We must hold these terrorists accountable. They must be brought to Iraqi justice," he added.
"Today, it is no longer enough for the Yazidi community to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable and prosecute them," Kachi, the Yazidi survivor, told the council. "The international community must acknowledge the crimes committed against us amount to genocide."