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ICC Note: With at least nine mass graves in the area surrounding Raqqa, Syrians working to identify remains and preserve evidence against ISIS are overwhelmed by the monumental task. Raqqa was the de-facto capitol of ISIS. Although the city once was home to a vibrant Christian community, the violence of ISIS resulted in many fleeing. Those who remained behind risked death. Many of ISIS’s sex slaves, most of whom belonged to religious minority groups, were also taken to Raqqa. The preservation of evidence of ISIS’s crimes there is an important step in bringing healing to the communities who have been devastated by ISIS’s violence.

07/04/2018 Syria (Rudaw) –  Syrians working to uncover mass graves in an area once ruled by ISIS need help to preserve evidence, identify human remains and shed more light on the horrors perpetrated by the militants, an international watchdog said Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch said thousands of bodies — of civilians slain by the extremists, residents killed in airstrikes by the US-led coalition and of ISIS fighters — remain to be recovered in several mass graves in and around the city of Raqqa. The appeal came in a new report released Tuesday by the New York-based group.

Local members of the Raqqa Civil Council, a governing body set up by US-backed and Kurdish-led forces, are “struggling to cope with the logistical challenges of collecting and organizing information” on the bodies uncovered and providing it to families searching for missing or dead relatives, HRW said.

Raqqa was the extremists’ de facto capital and the seat of their self-proclaimed caliphate, which at the height of their power in 2014 stretched across a third of both Syria and Iraq. Since then an array of Syrian and Iraqi forces have driven ISIS from virtually all the territory it once held, but the group is still present in remote areas along the border.

The extremist group, which attracted fighters from around the world, carried out mass killings and other atrocities, including public beheadings. Women and men accused of adultery were stoned to death, while men believed to be gay were thrown from the tops of buildings and then pelted with stones.

Human Rights Watch said identifying missing people and preserving evidence for possible prosecutions is critical for Syria’s future.

“Raqqa city has at least nine mass graves, each one estimated to have dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies, making exhumations a monumental task,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at HRW.

“Without the right technical assistance, these exhumations may not provide families with the answers they have been waiting for and could damage or destroy evidence crucial to future justice efforts,” she added.

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