Joint Statement: Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen and Yazda Welcome Historic Genocide Case in Germany
Frankfurt, 24 April 2020
The trial of Taha A. J., a 27-year-old Iraqi national, begins today in the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt, Germany. The defendant has been charged with membership in a foreign terrorist organization, crimes against humanity, human trafficking, and war crimes, including the murder of a five-year-old Yazidi girl. Victim’s counsel Amal Clooney comments on the historic significance of this moment:
“This case represents the first prosecution anywhere in the world of an ISIS militant for the crime of genocide against Yazidi civilians. I commend the German authorities for their leadership in prosecuting those responsible for committing genocide against the Yazidis, and for answering the call from survivors to hold ISIS to account for their crimes. This is a historic moment for the Yazidi community and other victims of grave human rights abuses.”
According to the indictment, Taha A. J. joined the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) before March 2013. He is the husband and alleged co-perpetrator of Jennifer W., a 28-year-old German citizen who is currently on trial before the Higher Regional Court of Munich for murder as a war crime and crimes against humanity committed against Yazidi victims. In the summer of 2015, Taha A. J. “purchased” and enslaved a five-year-old Yazidi girl and her mother, and he and his wife held them captive at their residence in Fallujah, Iraq, where they forcibly converted them to Islam. Taha A. J. beat the captives and one day chained the child outdoors, leaving her to die of thirst in scorching temperatures. If convicted, both Taha A. J. and Jennifer W. face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Victim’s counsel Natalie von Wistinghausen says:
“The concept of universal jurisdiction that has been adopted by the German judicial system allows for the accused to be prosecuted in Germany for the genocide of the Yazidi in Iraq. This prosecution is a big step towards the accountability of individual IS-members for their atrocious crimes and attacks against the Yazidi population. For our client, in particular, it is an important achievement that the man who is responsible for the death of her daughter and for the mother’s and child’s enslavement and mistreatment, now has to face trial and that the indictment includes the crime of genocide.”
In August 2014 ISIS swept across the Sinjar and Nineveh plains and began targeted attacks against indigenous Yazidis, Christians (including ethnic Assyrians), Shia Turkmen, and other religious minorities. ISIS carried out its plan to eliminate the Yazidi people, killing the men and adolescent boys, and abducting thousands of women and children. Young boys were indoctrinated and forced to fight for ISIS, while women and girls as young as nine were enslaved and sold as chattel to ISIS militants. While in captivity they were subjected to beatings, forced labor, forced marriages, and sustained sexual violence under an organized system of sexual enslavement. The United Nations, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other national and international bodies have recognized these crimes as amounting to genocide. Approximately 3,000 Yazidis remain unaccounted for, with many women and children thought to remain under ISIS control.
Yazda, a global Yazidi NGO, has been supporting survivors and documenting these crimes since its inception in early 2015. Its Documentation Project collects testimonies and preserves information. The project has been instrumental in the identification of the mother of the murdered five-year-old Yazidi girl who will be testifying in the Taha A. J. case.
Yazda’s Executive Director Murad Ismael adds:
“Yazda stands ready to assist the government of Iraq, UNITAD, and all governments in efforts to redress the injustices inflicted by ISIS on innocent civilians in Iraq and beyond. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I also commend the German authorities for their continuous efforts to bring justice to the Yazidis. I now