Yazidi trial: life imprisonment for is fighter

For genocide against the Yazidis and crimes against humanity, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court has sentenced a supporter of the "Islamic State" to life imprisonment condemns. It is the first verdict of its kind in the world.

Verdict in the Yazidi trial: DW reporter Matthias von Hein reports

This verdict makes legal history: for the first time in the world, a court has ruled that a former member of the so-called Islamic State is guilty of genocide against the Yazidi religious community. The judges at the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court also found the 29-year-old Iraqi supporter of the jihadist militia guilty on Tuesday of crimes against humanity resulting in death. In concrete terms, it was about the cruel death of a five-year-old girl.

Since May 2020, the accused Iraqi was on trial in Frankfurt. The child lived with her Yazidi mother as a slave in the household of the IS member – and his German wife.

Defendant Jennifer W. (l) is led into the courtroom on Oct. 25, 2021, before the start of the trial. She hides her face behind a file folder

In Munich, Jennifer W. Sentenced to ten years in prison. She is the ex-wife of the man now sentenced in Frankfurt

The IS returnee Jennifer W. was sentenced in late October in a separate trial to ten years in prison – among other things for membership in a terrorist organization abroad, for crimes against humanity, for slavery resulting in death and for aiding and abetting attempted murder by omission. It was about the same child.

Death in the heat of Fallujah

In the summer of 2015, the drama took place in Fallujah in northern Iraq. The terrorist militia IS ruled there at the time. The Yezidi woman Nora T, abducted by IS. had to clean the house, do the laundry, take care of the household; her daughter Reda was supposed to do one thing above all else: not disturb her. On a hot August day, the witness Nora T reported unanimously. as also Jennifer W., the girl had wet the bed. As punishment, the now convicted man tied the girl to a window grille in the blazing sun. So long, until it died.

Seven times Nora T. testified as a witness in Frankfurt, and as many as eleven times in Munich. Again and again the bent woman had to tell about this terrible day on which her daughter died. She is in her late forties – and looks 20 years older. Their fate mirrors the fate of their people, the Yazidis. They consider their religion the oldest in the world. They believe in a god, but they also worship angels. The IS terrorist militia branded the Yazidis as "infidels" and "Devil Worshipper – and systematically hunted down in 2014.

No one knows whether they are still alive or have been buried

A son remained Nora T.

7000 women and children were enslaved and sold, according to United Nations estimates, many are still missing. Anyone who was male and old enough to grow armpit hair was murdered – thousands of people. From her family, Nora T. only one son remained. With whom she lives protected by police officers in a secret place in Germany in the witness protection program. But as a joint plaintiff, she shed her victim role in the courtrooms. She was supported by the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney; represented by Nora T. testified by the German lawyer Natalie von Wistinghausen.

The fact that the death of her daughter Reda in Iraq was tried in a German court is due to the so-called world law principle in the International Criminal Code. This allows German prosecutors and courts to prosecute crimes even if the crime was not committed in Germany and neither the perpetrator nor the victim are German. In the case of the now convicted IS fighter, there is another peculiarity: The Iraqi was not even on German soil when he was arrested. The federal prosecution had him specially arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany.

For international law expert Alexander Schwarz, the trial thus "demonstrates Germany’s willingness to actually prosecute crimes under international law worldwide and not to stop at national borders."

In the foreground a skull, in the background soldiers digging and checking finds in northern Iraq

Grisly legacy: mass grave of Yazidis in northern Iraq

Genocide or Accident?

How can the horrific death of little Reda become genocide?? By considering it proven that the way the defendant Nora T. and her daughter was part of an IS plan to destroy the Yazidi religious community. "Genocide is the most serious crime known to international criminal law. But genocide is also the most difficult crime to prove.", says international law expert Schwarz. "Because you have to prove intent on the part of the perpetrator; you have to prove that he was really subjectively concerned with destroying, destroying the Yazidi religious community."

Lawyer Serkan Alkan talks to his client Taha A.-J., who hides his head behind a file folder, at the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court on April 24, 2020

Lawyer Serkan Alkan (left) represented the defendant in Frankfurt

The defense tried to distance their client as far as possible from the organized campaign of destruction of the IS against the Yazidis. The mother of the girl was only a domestic help for him. The death of the girl could go back also to a Vorerkrankung. The children in Iraq are used to high temperatures. "The death of the child was a terrible accident, which he certainly did not want", said the defense lawyer, according to the dpa news agency. But the judges did not follow this in their verdict.

Murder trial without body

The accident theory was supported by the fact that the defendant immediately took the Yazidi girl to a local hospital. The defense had even sown doubt that the child had died at all. In May, citing an employee of the Fallujah hospital as well as a distant uncle of the accused, she stated that Reda had been cared for in the hospital for a week: Then an IS man would have taken the girl away. Today, the girl lives in Idlib in northern Syria. Evidence of this, the defense conceded, is difficult to obtain.

Yazidis fleeing IS fighters in August 2014. A mother carries her child on her back, others drag some bags on the way from Mount Sinjar to the Turkish border

In 2014, the IS attacked the settlement area of the Yazidis. Tens of thousands fled, thousands died or were enslaved.

This detail shows how difficult and costly it is to conduct such trials far away from the crime scenes. Although the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office has been sifting through and collecting evidence of IS crimes under international law for years in so-called structural investigation proceedings. It can then be used in preliminary proceedings against specific defendants. But all in all, according to international law expert Alexander Schwarz, "Germany is not in a position, with its limited resources, to clarify the mass of international crimes committed by the Islamic State. An international criminal tribunal in Iraq, for example, could at least clear up a large proportion of these crimes. "At present, however, there is not much to suggest that such a tribunal will be held", says Schwarz.

International Tribunal

In this respect, trials such as the one in Frankfurt are perhaps only the second best solution. But they have an enormous significance. For Nora T. in particular, and for the Yazidis in general. On the outside wall of the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court is written in metal letters the sentence: "The dignity of man is inviolable". Especially the Yezidis, whom the IS wanted to take away their dignity in thousands of cruel ways, look at this sentence. And hope for justice.

With the verdict against the 29-year-old IS supporter, this is now at least legally established. In addition to the life sentence for the defendant, the court also ordered a pain and suffering payment to the surviving mother in the amount of 50.000 euros.

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