Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Hundreds of mass graves containing thousands of bodies -- including children, women and other civilians -- have been found in Iraq, the United Nations said in a report Tuesday.
The U.N. Human Rights Office said Tuesday 202 mass grave sites found in areas that used to be held by the Islamic State reveals a widespread campaign of violence, "which may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide," the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq and OHCHR said.
"The mass grave sites documented in our report are a testament to harrowing human loss, profound suffering and shocking cruelty," said U.N. special representative for Iraq Jan Kubis. "Determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice."
Forensic analysis of the remains could identify the dead and help U.N. officials better understand the crimes committed by the terror group.
Previous estimates put the death toll at 33,000 civilians, though that number could rise. The dead include women, children, the elderly and members of Iraq's army and police force, the U.N. report said.
Officials said the goal is to return the remains to families.
"Evidence gathered from these sites will be central to ensuring credible investigations, prosecution and convictions in accordance with international due process standards," the report states.
The territory where the graves were found, in northern and western Iraq, was occupied by the Islamic State, which also goes by the names ISIS and ISIL, four years ago. Militants were driven out by Iraqi and U.S.-led forces last year.
"These graves contain the remains of those mercilessly killed for not conforming to ISIL's twisted ideology and rule, including ethnic and religious minorities," the report states. "Their families have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. Truth, justice and reparations are critical to ensuring a full reckoning for the atrocities committed by ISIL."