Global Human Rights Defence

German Court Convicts ISIS Member of Genocide Against Yazidis in Historic Trial

Source: Alliance/DPA, 10.12.2021

03/12/2021

Author: Hanorah Hardy

Department: Europe

Introduction

In a landmark ruling in Frankfurt, Germany, Taha A.J, an Iraqi national and member of the Islamic State (ISIS), was convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, aiding and abetting war crimes and bodily harm resulting in death. Taha A.J, who was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago, will serve life in prison. The decision represents the first conviction of a member of ISIS for genocide anywhere in the world.

Taha A.J. joined ISIS prior to 2013. The case brought against him involved him and his wife purchasing and enslaving a five-year-old Yazidi girl named Reda and her mother in 2015. Both were held captive, beaten and subject to various other forms of violence, including rape and sexual assault. Reda died after Taha A.J chained her outdoors to the bars of a window and left her in the heat as a punishment for wetting the bed. The Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt held that, as a member of ISIS, Taha A.J intended to eliminate the religious minority of the Yazidis by purchasing the two Yazidi women and enslaving them. The court sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment. His wife, “Jennifer W”, a German national, was sentenced in a separate trial last month to 10 years in prison for aiding and abetting the crimes against Reda and her mother.

Although neither Taha A.J. nor his victims are German nationals, and the offences were not committed on German territory, German courts exercised their jurisdiction over the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Background

The Yazidi community, an ethnoreligious group, largely based in Northern Iraq, has faced many years of violence, oppression and threatened extermination. In 2014, ISIS launched an attack, invading Iraq and large parts of Syria, establishing a self-declared “Islamic empire”. The group took over the Yazidi homeland in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, home to almost 420,000 people, and embarked on a campaign of genocide against the Yazidi community. ISIS carried out large-scale massacres against the civilian population involving mass killings, sexual violence, torture and enslavement. Over 5,000 people were killed, and over 400,000 people were displaced from their homes. To date, more than 2,800 Yazidi women and children are still held captive by the Islamic State or remain missing.

The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (“Inquiry on Syria”) stated that in the aftermath of the 2014 attack, “no free Yazidis remained in the Sinjar region, the 400,000-strong community had all been displaced, captured, or killed”. To this day, there are an estimated 360,000 displaced Yazidis living in camps in the KRI, while a further 90,000 have fled from Iraq since 2014.

Most notibly, the Inquiry on Syria recognised that the Islamic State’s actions against the Yazidi community amounted to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Furthermore, this May, a UN investigative team tasked with investigating ISIS atrocities in Iraq, Unitad, said it had established “clear and convincing evidence that genocide was committed by [ISIS] against the Yazidis as a religious group”.

The principle of Universal Jurisdiction 

The legal principle of Universal Jurisdiction constitutes the idea that any national court may prosecute individuals accused of having committed heinous offenses in violation of treaty law and international law. These include, but are not limited to: crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and torture. Neither the defendants nor the victims need to be residents of the country in which the trial is held. The crimes could have been committed anywhere, with no statute of limitations. Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch explained the basic rationale for Universal Jurisdiction as “crimes that are so offensive that we have a communal interest in trying them through our domestic courts”. The perpetrators of such crimes are considered hostis humani generis — “enemies of all mankind”. 

There are several global legal mechanisms set up to bring perpetrators of crimes of such scale to account, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, a series of complex issues accompany these mechanisms. For example, only countries that have accepted the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, can bring in cases. 123 countries have accepted the Rome Statute,  however, Iraq is not included in this number. Also, some countries lack adequate judicial systems or the needed political will to prosecute crimes of this magnitude committed on their own soil. Legal experts identify this as a threat to a core tenet of the rule of law everywhere. Therefore, Universal Jurisdiction is a crucial means to “hold the people who commit these egregious crimes responsible but won’t be held accountable at home”.

Looking forward

Natalie von Wistinghausen, who represented Reda’s mother in the trial, stated that “The genocide of the Yazidi has already been recognized by international bodies like the UN and the European parliament as well as other national parliaments. But for a court of law to legally define the crimes ISIS committed against the Yazidi people as genocide is a ‘first’”.

Nobel peace prize laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by ISIS, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community”; she continued that “Germany is not only raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it. Their use of Universal Jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world”

However, the verdict should only be a starting point. Further proceedings must follow in order to shed light on the serious crimes against the Yazidi community and those who perpetrate them. “The process in Frankfurt is an important step. But further trials are needed, particularly into gender-based violence such as mass rapes, forced marriages and other forms of sexualized violence”, said Alexander Schwarz, Amnesty International Germany, International Law Expert. To date, approximately 2,763 Yazidi women and children who have been victims of forced or involuntary disappearances are still missing. Intensified efforts and continued international cooperation must continue to address the previous and ongoing human rights abuses suffered by the Yazidi community at the hands of ISIS. In order to succeed, a multi-level approach to proceedings under Universal Jurisdiction should include other judicial mechanisms not only at the international level but at the national level as well. States have a shared moral responsibility to end impunity, hold perpetrators to account and continue on the pathway to full justice.  

Bibliography 

News Articles

Amnesty International, ‘Germany/Iraq: World’s first judgment on crime of genocide against the Yazidis’ (30 November 2021) Available at: 

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/11/germany-iraq-worlds-first-judgment-on-crime-of-genocide-against-the-yazidis/ accessed 01 December 2021.

Doughty Street Chambers, ‘German court hands down first genocide conviction against ISIS member’ (30 November 2021) Available at: 

https://www.doughtystreet.co.uk/news/german-court-hands-down-first-genocide-conviction-against-isis-member accessed 01 December 2021.

The Guardian, ‘Ex-IS member guilty of genocide for chaining up Yazidi girl to die in the sun’ (01 December 2021) Available at:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/30/ex-is-member-guilty-of-genocide-for-leaving-yazidi-girl-to-die-in-the-sun accessed 01 December 2021. 

Rick Gladstone, ‘An Old Legal Doctrine That Puts War Criminals in the Reach of Justice.’ The New York Times (New York, 10 August 2021) Available at: 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/28/world/europe/universal-jurisdiction-war-crimes.html accessed on 02 December 2021.

Journals

Douglas R. Burgess Jr. “Hostis Humani Generi: Piracy, Terrorism and a New International Law” (2006) 13 U. MIA Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 293

Rania Abouzeid, ‘When the weapons fall silent: Reconciliation in Sinjar after ISIS.’ (2018) European Council of Foreign Relations. Available at:

https://ecfr.eu/wp-content/uploads/when_the_weapons_fall_silent_reconciliation_in_sinjar_after_isisFINAL.pdf accessed 01 December 2021.

Reports

Human Rights Watch, “These are the Crimes we are Fleeing” (HRW – 2017). https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/03/these-are-crimes-we-are-fleeing/justice-syria-swedish-and-german-courts accessed 02 December 2021.

OHCHR, Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. (OHCHR – 2021) Available at:                                                                           https://www.ohchr.org/EN/hrbodies/hrc/iicisyria/pages/independentinternationalcommission.aspx accessed 01 December 2021.

The United Nations, ‘ISIL/Da’esh Committed Genocide of Yazidi, War Crimes against Unarmed Cadets, Military Personnel in Iraq, Investigative Team Head Tells Security Council.’ (UN – 2021) available at:  https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sc14514.doc.htm accessed 01 December 2021.

Treaties 

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 1998, ISBN No. 92-9227-227-6, available at:  https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3a84.html accessed on 03 December 2021.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Human Rights Film Festival The Hague

Register

Human Rights Film Festival The Hague

This will close in 0 seconds

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.