Friday, May 27

First global genocide trial against Yazidis concludes in Germany

An unprecedented trial will end on Tuesday in Frankfurt, Germany.

Taha Al-J. he is the first suspected jihadist to be prosecuted for genocide against the Yazidis.

The Kurdish-speaking minority was persecuted and enslaved by members of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria, when jihadists controlled large swaths of the territories of Middle Eastern countries.

An estimated 10,000 Yazidi people were killed in northern Iraq in the mass atrocities. Approximately 7,000 Yazidi women and girls, some as young as nine, were enslaved and forcibly transferred to locations in Iraq and eastern Syria.

Prosecutors say Taha Al-J., A former ISIS member, enslaved a Yazidi girl and her mother in Iraq, then tortured and murdered the 5-year-old girl in 2015.

If the Frankfurt court finds that Taha Al-J. committed genocide, “then it will be the first time that a legal court has ruled that IS crimes against Yazidis are genocide,” said Natia Navrouzov, director of legal defense for the global NGO Yazidi Yazda.

While the United Nations has recognized the crimes as genocide, as well as some other international and national bodies, “it has not yet happened that a court of law has said that what happened to the Yazidis is genocide.” not the lawyer.

“For the victims, it would be a really fabulous thing. You know, it’s been seven years since you’ve been waiting for this. So it would be a huge milestone for us,” he told Euronews.

Euronews explores the implications of the landmark case for the Yazidis’ long quest for justice and the role European countries play in the process.

What is Taha Al-J. accused of?

Taha Al-J. he is an Iraqi national who is believed to have joined ISIS in 2013. He and his wife Jennifer W., a German national, were allegedly members of the moral police of Hisbah, ISIS.

German prosecutors say that Taha Al-J. and Jennifer W. “bought” a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter, Rania, as domestic “slaves” in Mosul in 2015.

He is suspected of banning the girl and her mother from practicing their religion, forcing them to convert to Islam.

The plaintiff’s lawyers also say the two were “beaten almost daily.”

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One day, after the girl got sick and wet her mattress, Taha Al-J. he chained her outside as punishment and left her to die in the scorching heat, prosecutors said.

Navrouzov told Euronews that the girl died as a result of heat, thirst and malnutrition.

“She was weak in general,” he said. “And the mother was there, so she saw it,” added the lawyer.

The boy’s mother has been a key witness in the case and is represented by attorneys Amal Clooney and Natalie von Wistinghausen at the trial.

Taha Al-J .’s wife Jennifer W. was recently convicted in a separate trial in Munich for failing to take any steps to prevent the child’s death, despite witnessing her husband’s act.

Taha Al-J. He was arrested in Greece in May 2019 when he was reportedly trying to apply for refugee status.

“As Germany had already initiated the investigation against Jennifer W., who was his wife, requested the extradition of Taha Al-J.”, Since both cases are linked, explained Navrouzov.

He was indicted in early 2020 and faces charges of having committed genocide, crimes against humanity, murder and human trafficking as a member of a terrorist organization.

His trial began in April 2020. If convicted, Taha Al-J. faces life in prison.

Contacted by Euronews, Taha Al-J .’s lawyer, Serkan Alkan, said that he and fellow defense attorney Martin Heising “deny the charges because we have a feeling that our client is used as a proxy for the crimes of the Islamic State.”

Alkan argued that a lot of information was missing, “to the point that it is unclear if someone has died. We have no hard evidence of this.”

“Furthermore, we believe that in legal terms it has in no way complied with the requirements of international criminal law,” he added.

What would be the meaning of a verdict for genocide?

If the Frankfurt court finds that Taha Al-J. committed genocide, “we hope this will have a ripple effect, that this will lead to more trials like this,” Navrouzov said.

But Navrouzov was far from taking a genocide verdict for granted in this case.

“As a lawyer, I know how difficult it is to prove genocide,” Navrouzov said.

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“Of course we know that IS committed genocide against Yazidis. But in each trial, you have to prove that this particular person intended to commit genocide against Yazidis. And I think that’s always very difficult to prove.”

“The court must be careful how they will communicate about this,” he warned.

“If they conclude that they don’t have sufficient evidence of that, they should make sure to communicate with the Yazidi community in the right way and tell them ‘we are not saying there is no genocide against Yazidis.’ Simply saying that for this particular person, there is no evidence. enough to say that he intended to commit genocide. “

Why is the trial being held in Germany?

“Taha is Iraqi. The victim is Iraqi. The crimes occurred in Iraq. But still, Germany, thanks to the principle of universal jurisdiction, can prosecute,” Navrouzov explained.

Under this principle, Berlin allows its court to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

But even European countries that do not have universal jurisdiction could prosecute their citizens who were so-called “foreign fighters” in Iraq and Syria, the lawyer added.

Navrouzov told Euronews that Germany is “far ahead of other countries” as the only nation to prosecute individual ISIS members.

France has started a case against the Lafarge company, which is accused of paying millions of euros to jihadist groups to keep its cement factory in Syria running during the first years of the war. But the case focuses on the responsibility of a company and not on the individual members of the IS.

Outside of Europe, Iraq “of course” is prosecuting ISIS members, Navrouzov said, but only for belonging to a terrorist group.

“Unfortunately, in Iraq there is no legal framework to prosecute them for international crimes, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said the lawyer. “This is not the justice that the victims want and hope to see.”

What are the challenges in bringing these crimes to justice?

Since 2014, Yazda has been relentlessly documenting crimes against the Yazidi minority, collecting the testimonies of more than 2,000 victims.

The non-profit organization has played a pivotal role in Taha Al-J. case. “We have identified the only victim and the only witness, and were able to connect her through our legal team with German prosecutors and the war crimes unit,” Navrouzov told Euronews.

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Those working to bring the perpetrators of the Yazidi genocide to justice face multiple challenges, the lawyer said.

“One of the main challenges is identifying the whereabouts of the perpetrators. Where are they? Are they detained? If so, where and if we know where they are, is the country willing to prosecute them?” Navrouzov asked.

“And another big challenge is linking IS members with their real identity because IS members were using crib or nom de guerre. And we have thousands of kunyas, names of war mentioned in the statements we have compiled. But it is really difficult to link them to a real person and then try to understand if it is the same name that is mentioned in the victims’ statements, “he continued.

But the key challenge is above all “political,” Navrouzov said.

“European countries have been very reluctant to repatriate their citizens from Iraq and Syria for prosecution, for different reasons: the security of the country, public opinion is against, etc.”

“Another argument is that they do not have the evidence to prosecute them. That is why they fear that if they bring them back, they will have to release them very quickly because they have nothing against them.”

“So this is the gap that we are trying to fill. We approach these countries and say, ‘These people have also committed crimes against Yazidis, and that means they can be prosecuted not just for belonging to a terrorist group. , but also for genocide and crimes against humanity, war crimes, which means that their sentence will be higher. And it also means that they will be prosecuted in a way that is what Yazidi victims seek and expect. “

“Europe does not seem ready at the moment. But I also think that it is not a sustainable situation. They cannot continue to ignore this issue,” Navrouzov said.

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