On November 30, 2021, a German court convicted an Islamic State member for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the Yazidi genocide, and more particularly, for his killing of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl who he purchased as a “slave.”
The German court sentenced Taha Al-J. to life imprisonment and was ordered to pay 50,000 euros or $57,000 to the girl’s mother. Taha Al-J’s wife was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for her involvement in the girl’s death.
The Crime and the Arrest
The trial revealed some grim details of the events that led to the 5-year old’s death. According to prosecutors, in 2015, Al-J. purchased a Yazidi woman and her daughter as “slaves” from an IS base in Syria. In 2014, the mother and daughter were forcibly taken from northern Iraq, and the IS group had “sold and resold” the mother and daughter several times.
The indictment also revealed that after Al-J purchased the mother and daughter, he took them to his home in Fallujah, a city in Iraq, and forced them to do housework and to abide by strict Islamic rules, all while torturing them and depriving them of basic needs.
Then allegedly, in 2015, the girl wet the bed, and as punishment, he chained her outside in blazing hot weather without water or protection from the sun. The punishment inevitably led to the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother lives in Germany and has testified on five different occasions in Germany. She is currently under a witness protection program.
The case is just one of many acts of genocide taken against the Yazidi ethnic minority group that resides predominately in northern Iraq. During the Islamic States’ reign, they killed thousands of Yazidis and kidnapped and forced into slavery women and children.
ISIS believes the Yazidis are devil worshippers and opposes their ethnic belief for that reason.
In May 2019, the defendant was arrested in Athens on a European arrest warrant and was extradited to Germany per the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows courts to adjudicate crimes committed in another jurisdiction regardless of a link between prosecuting country and where the crime took place.
Prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney stated that she was “grateful to Germany for defending the principle of universal jurisdiction, which means that crimes like this must be prosecuted wherever and whenever they occur.”
As the German court demonstrates, the principle of universal jurisdiction can be a possible option for countries to hold ISIS accountable for their involvement in the Yazidi genocide and other crimes against humanity.
This case also demonstrates the important role of witness protection programs in aiding in investigations related to crimes against humanity and war crimes. They are crucial to the success of these investigations as well as bring accountability to the harmed.
The German case also show that, even though the United Nations and other international organizations have not prosecuted genocide and crimes against humanity in Syria, national governments and courts can hold perpetrators accountable.