U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 10, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President. Special Representative Khan, Ambassador Mohammed, thank you both for your extensive briefings on this difficult topic.
The United States is committed to supporting the critical work of UNITAD to collect, store, and preserve evidence of ISIS’s atrocities that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
We urge the Iraqi government to recommit to fair, evidence-based trials that allow the victims and survivors of ISIS’s brutality and false ideology to have their day in court. These evidence-based trials will not only establish the clear culpability of ISIS and its members for the perpetration of the atrocities, they will help showcase Iraq’s justice system and its commitment to the rule of law.
We are encouraged to hear that the Iraqi parliament is considering legislation that would allow Iraq to prosecute ISIS suspects for international crimes, and we support such efforts. It is imperative that these heinous crimes be labeled for exactly what they were – genocide and crimes against humanity – so that no one can ever doubt what took place, but also to reflect what the Iraqi people have overcome.
We also support UNITAD’s expanded cooperation with the Government of Iraq, including with the Iraqi judiciary. We are confident this increased cooperation will contribute to additional successful prosecutions of ISIS members in Iraq and abroad, and that the partnership of the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government with UNITAD will help ensure positive outcomes for Iraq and the victims of these awful crimes.
We know that COVID-19 has further complicated this critical work, worsening already difficult conditions. But despite these obstacles, Iraq’s Mass Graves Directorate and the Medico-Legal Directorate, in cooperation with UNITAD, continue to build the capacity of national Iraqi forensic teams to conduct evidence-based investigations and exhumations.
This was evidenced in late October when Iraqi authorities resumed the exhumations of mass graves left by ISIS in Solagh, known as the “Grave of Mothers,” where dozens of elderly Yezidi women were executed by ISIS because they were deemed too old to be sold into sexual slavery. In this case, and in so many others like it, we must never forget the brutality that ISIS inflicted on their victims.
We recognize and applaud the Government of Iraq for its plans to exhume all mass graves and to remember and honor all those victimized by ISIS brutality.
The United States also recognizes that while the evidence-based trials are absolutely critical to justice and to the healing process, so is support for victims and survivors. This includes psychosocial support, as well as the realization of victims’ rights through legal proceedings. Exhumations are a painful process that can trigger difficult emotions including sadness, anxiety, anger, loneliness or fear, and we commend UNITAD and its partners for providing psycho-social support to staff, survivors, and family members. We also commend the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government for their continuing support of these goals.
In recognition of this critical work, the United States continues its financial support to UNITAD. As we noted in our last meeting on UNITAD, the United States provided $2 million in support of UNITAD’s first exhumations of mass grave sites in Iraq in the Sinjar region. As of December 2020, U.S. funding for UNITAD now totals $8.85 million, which supports a wide range of different activities associated with UNITAD’s mandates.
The United States once again urges Member States to repatriate, prosecute, rehabilitate, and reintegrate, as appropriate, their citizens and nationals who traveled to Iraq to join ISIS. Iraq should not have to continue to shoulder responsibility for these foreign terrorist fighters and associated family members alone. We note the valuable support UNITAD can provide to other Member States in conducting such investigations and prosecutions.
We thank the Government of Iraq and UNITAD for their continuing cooperation and work to hold ISIS accountable for all its atrocities.
Thank you, Mr. President.