UNITAD and UNICC: Innovative Technology and Partnerships for International Criminal Investigations

21 May, 2021


The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) joined the UNICC family as a Partner Organization in August 2020. The partnership has quickly advanced to support data management for accountability in UNITAD criminal investigations, with UNICC offering Microsoft Azure hosting services, development, data and cognitive services.

UNITAD is an independent, impartial investigative team, mandated by the United Nations Security Council to support efforts to hold ISIL members accountable for their crimes. Based in Baghdad, Iraq, UNITAD was established as a unanimous response from the international community to a request for assistance from the Government of Iraq. UNITAD is headed by Special Adviser Karim A. A. Khan QC.

The collection and preservation of evidence related to ISIL crimes presents a variety of challenges, but with these challenges comes opportunity. The criminality of Da’esh, and the quantity and variety of the evidence left behind, necessitated new thinking and new investigative approaches. UNITAD needed to chart new ground, and I was determined that innovation and advanced technology must supplement more established approaches to grappling with mass data sets and vast quantities of documentary, video, photographic, electronic and testimonial evidence.

Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team

UNITAD’s innovative and technology-focused approach to the collection and analysis of evidence of ISIL crimes was welcomed by United Nations Member States in an Arria Formula Meeting of the Security Council this month, chaired by the United Kingdom. The session highlights the value of advanced technology and partnership in providing accountability to meet UNITAD’s criminal investigations mandate (see meeting recording here).

We are proud to be working with UNITAD, UN OICT and Microsoft to harness innovation, data and analytics to assist UNITAD in fulfilling its mandate to deliver justice for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

UNICC contributions

UNICC Data and Analytics, Application Development and Cloud Infrastructure teams supported the collection, preservation and storing of evidence in the form of images, audio, video and digital text files that has been recovered from sources on the field.

This data helps serve as evidence in independent criminal proceedings to hold members of ISIL accountable for the crimes they may have committed.

The Data and Analytics team led the development of a data pipelines build-out using cloud AI technologies and enabled, AI enriched content to gain an understanding of content for investigators.

UNITAD charting new ground in criminal investigations

UNITAD reflects that, if harnessed properly, technology resources can bring about a paradigm shift in how the world approaches international criminal investigations: integrating innovative technology not as a stand-alone platform but as an integrated process focused on organization, screening and analysis of evidence.

UNITAD has sought to leverage advanced technology in every aspect of its work, with designing innovative solutions in-house or partnering with leading technology companies like UNICC and Microsoft Corporation. In particular, an evidence lifecycle management platform known as ELMS was developed in-house, allowing investigators to collect and record evidence directly from their computers or mobile phones. Advanced forensic tools are used to unlock and analyse cell phone data.

The solution can process more than 250,000 passwords per second; it can also perform ballistic analysis from ammunition retrieved from crime scenes. To date, the investigative team has collected more than 50 terabytes of data and tens of millions of files. The UNITAD team quickly realized that the daunting challenges presented by this enormous and complex collection of evidence could only be addressed with innovative technology.

The UNITAD Special Advisor secured much needed support to develop a digital data platform from UNICC, UN OICT and Microsoft. The solution was based on artificial intelligence and machine learning to process and enrich UNITAD’s evidence collection standards. These joint cognitive services coupled with UNITAD’s custom-trained models allow for data enrichment pipelines (see white paper here).

The organizations worked together to develop an advanced evidence-analysis solution that leverages Microsoft’s Azure cognitive services and integrates with the relativity evidence review and analysis platform. This partnership not only helps UNITAD fulfill its mandate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner, but it creates new business opportunities that its partners can take to other entities facing similar challenges. At the same time, UNITAD lever­aged existing relationships with UNICC and UN OICT for infrastructure, development data and security expertise.

UNITAD created an animation on the partnership solution featuring the UNITAD team as well as Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC and Justin Spelhaug, Vice-President of Tech for Social Impact Group, Microsoft Corporation with Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team, UNITAD.

The result is not only transformative for UNITAD’s work, but may also be a model for partnerships with the private sector to enhance criminal accountability initiatives.

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