Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the UN Investigative Team for Accountability of Da’esh/ISIL

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 10, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. Let me start by thanking Ms. Murad for her compelling and powerful testimony, and for her insights into what steps need to be taken by this Council. Special Representative Khan, thank you for your extensive briefing on this difficult topic, as well. As the Special Representative takes on the position as the chief prosecutor at the ICC, I would like to commend him and his team for setting up UNITAD and doing so much excellent work since.

The “stocktaking section” of the Special Representative’s report is both an impressive list of accomplishments and a clear set of signposts for our path forward. In particular, I’d like to especially applaud your efforts, Mr. Representative, toward returning the remains of 103 Yezidis recovered from nine mass grave sites in Kojo village. For their families, that return must have meant the world. Your work with the Yezidi community – including making sure that commemorations were dignified and accommodated Yezidi beliefs and practices – has helped these communities heal, and puts them closer to national reconciliation with other Iraqi communities. And your legacy will be UNITAD’s continued efforts, as it works to accomplish these sensitive tasks.

That work must continue. And it must continue alongside investigative work to hold ISIS accountable for its brutality. Specifically, UNITAD must continue to investigate the horrors perpetrated against members of the Yezidi community in the Sinjar region, and the events of the June 2014 events at the Tikrit Air Academy, where unarmed cadets and military personnel were killed en masse. These investigations, as well as progress on similar cases involving other ethnic and religious communities in Iraq, will deliver justice to the Iraqi people. These investigations are critical for evidence-based trials. But we can never forget the human toll they take. Exhumations are a deeply painful process. So, we commend UNITAD and its partners for providing psychosocial support to staff, to survivors, and to family members.

Finally, UNITAD must especially make progress on the investigation into ISIS’s alleged development and use of chemical and biological weapons. The international community cannot abide the use of chemical weapons – and those that use them cannot be allowed to do so with impunity.

With all of these investigative goals, success depends entirely on the partnership between UNITAD and Iraqi national entities. So, we support UNITAD’s expanded cooperation with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, including Iraqi law enforcement and judicial entities, survivor groups, NGOs, and religious authorities. This increased cooperation will lead to more successful prosecutions of ISIS members in Iraq and abroad. And these partnerships will help ensure positive outcomes for the Iraqi people and the victims of these terrible crimes.

To push this effort to the next step, we urge Iraq to adopt legislation currently being considered by the Council of Representatives which would provide a basis for the Iraqi government to prosecute atrocity crimes, including those committed by ISIS. This law will be essential to finalizing an arrangement for UNITAD to share evidence with competent Iraqi authorities in accordance with the Terms of Reference. And it will be in line with the excellent law passed recently by the Iraqi government – the Female Yezidi Survivors Law – which recognizes the ISIS genocide against Yezidis and other Iraqi communities, and seeks to address the needs of the survivors of these unspeakable atrocities. We look forward to supporting the Iraqi government’s implementation of this law.

Similarly, we also commend the Kurdistan Regional Government for announcing its intent to establish a special criminal court in Erbil for ISIS crimes. This announcement represents an important step in holding perpetrators of crimes against Yezidis accountable. We will monitor this court’s implementation very closely.

Finally, on the difficult question of foreign terrorist fighters: we urge Member States to repatriate them, prosecute them as appropriate, and rehabilitate and reintegrate their associated family members. And we thank UNITAD for the valuable support it has provided to Member States – including the United States – to conduct such investigations and prosecutions.

Accountability is one of the most important pillars holding up our rules-based order. And so, we thank the Government of Iraq and UNITAD for their hard work and continued cooperation to hold ISIS accountable for its atrocities.

Thank you, Mr. President.