The United States welcomes the submission of the report of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic (IIIM) since March 2011.
We are reminded of the importance of the IIIM’s work by the horrific events in Douma on April 7, with dozens dead and hundreds wounded by chemical weapons in a sickening example of the ongoing criminality of the Syrian regime. Though Russia obstructed the continuation of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, the JIM, and has blocked renewed attempts to independently attribute chemical weapons attacks, the documentation and building of case files to pursue accountability for such atrocities are most certainly also within the mandate of the IIIM.
We are proud to support the mechanism’s work, and congratulate the IIIM on its progress so far. In particular, I would like to applaud Catherine Marchi-Uhel, Head of the Mechanism, and her Deputy, Michelle Jarvis, on their serious and significant efforts to make progress in standing up the IIIM.
We welcome the mechanism’s commitment to establishing a protocol with NGOs in Syria. The United States has provided extensive support for Syrian civil society actors as they continue to risk their lives to document abuses on the ground, provide support services for survivors, and advocate for justice and human rights.
We have heard directly from both victims and many Syrian civil society representatives their strong desire to see the IIIM succeed in its mandate to collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuse. They also want the IIIM to prepare files to advance fair and independent criminal justice proceedings in jurisdictions that have – or may have in the future – jurisdiction over such crimes, in accordance with international law.
A few months ago, I met with a young women who had been held in slavery by ISIS. She begged the UN to bring the animals who killed her family and enslaved her to justice. This is why we are here and why the work of the IIIM is so important.
To this end, we commend the IIIM’s victim centered approach and the IIIM’s commitment to seeking to avoid re-traumatization of these victims in their documentation efforts. And we appreciate the mechanism’s commitment to paying special attention to sexual and gender based crimes in the Syrian conflict, and ensuring that throughout the process of pursuing justice and accountability they integrate Syrian women’s voices.
The United States also applauds the information sharing cooperation agreement established between the IIIM and the Commission of Inquiry (COI), which makes available the vast majority of information collected by the COI over the last seven years while also carefully respecting the confidentiality promised to victims and witnesses.
Seven years ago, the Assad regime chose to meet Syrians’ peaceful demands for respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms with chemical weapons, siege and starvation tactics, sexual violence, and arbitrary detention with inhumane conditions. When the Syrian people stood up, their government responded with unrelenting military attacks on civilian targets, in open violation of international law.
The United States respects the independence and impartiality of the IIIM and supports its policy of undertaking its own objective assessment of material received and drawing its own inferences, applying the highest standards of criminal law.
We also want to use this opportunity to underscore the United States’ support and appreciation for the General Assembly’s role in establishing and providing a mandate for the IIIM. Efforts to undermine the IIIM by claiming that the General Assembly overstepped its authority in establishing it are self-serving, cynical attempts to dodge accountability.
The IIIM’s first report highlights the enormity of the task in front of us, but indicates a solid strategy for gathering all of the information needed to build comprehensive and secure evidence files that can facilitate criminal prosecutions.
We must all plan for how best to support the IIIM over a period of years to advance accountability, and encourage all like-minded countries and all individuals who can support this effort, to do so. Thank you.