German court hands down a fourth conviction for crimes against humanity committed by ISIS against the Yazidis
Press Statement by Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen and Sonka Mehner who represent the Yazidi victim participating in the proceedings, Yazda, an NGO supporting Yazidi victims since 2014 and Nadia’s Initiative
Hamburg, 26 July 2021
On 22 July 2021, a German ISIS member known as ‘Omaima A.’ was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for her involvement in the enslavement of two Yazidi women who were kidnapped during ISIS’s massacre of the Yazidis in the Sinjar region of Iraq in 2014. One of the victims - a 30-year-old woman - joined the proceedings before the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg as a co-plaintiff and was represented by Ms. Clooney, Ms. von Wistinghausen and Ms. Mehner.
This is the second conviction of the 37-year-old woman, who also holds Tunisian citizenship. In October 2020, Omaima A. was found guilty of involvement in the enslavement of a Yazidi teenage girl by the same court in Hamburg and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison.
This second trial against Omaima A. came about after the co-plaintiff who was heard as a witness in the first trial and provided evidence that was not included in the first indictment. The Court found that in spring of 2016, Omaima A. received the co-plaintiff and a teenage girl in her house in Raqqa. Both were being held captive by the defendant’s friend Sarah O., herself recently convicted of crimes against humanity by the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf. Sarah O. would bring along her ‘slaves’ when she visited the defendant and other ISIS members. On two occasions, the two Yazidis were forced to clean Omaima A.’s house. Omaima A. knew that the two Yazidi females were held by Sarah O. and had been kidnapped by ISIS and ‘sold’ to ISIS fighters including Sarah O.’s husband. Although at her first trial Omaima A. denied knowing the co-plaintiff or even being in Syria when the alleged crimes took place, she entered a guilty plea in this second case. She was convicted of aiding and abetting a crime against humanity as well as other crimes and sentenced to 4 years of imprisonment, covering both the first and second conviction.
The Yazidi victim who was the co-plaintiff in this case was also the main witness in the recently-concluded criminal trials of ISIS members Nurten J. and Sarah O.. She was present in the courtroom when the judges announced the guilty verdict against the perpetrator. Following the judgment, she said “I agree with the judgment and its reasoning … the court focused on the personal suffering of the Yazidis and on the torment we had to endure while enslaved. I am grateful that this is being dealt with in the German courts.”
“This is the defendant’s first step towards taking real responsibility for the past and her very own involvement in the persecution of Yazidi women, including our client, with all the atrocities they had to suffer during their enslavement. She finally accepted to tell the truth and to accept in public that she was part of ‘the system’, which she had refused to concede in the first trial.” says Natalie von Wistinghausen, who represented the victim during the court hearings in Hamburg.
According to Amal Clooney, one of three counsel representing the victim participating in the proceeding: “This is another milestone in the fight for justice: the fourth conviction for crimes against humanity against ISIS members. This could not have happened without the incredible courage of Yazidi survivors and the commitment of German prosecutors to holding ISIS members to account for their crimes. But as we approach the 7th anniversary of the genocide, we must focus on the impunity that still reigns. Most of those responsible for the atrocities still walk free.”
Sonka Mehner comments: “The conclusion of what has been the fourth trial involving the co-plaintiff was an important further step for her in coming to terms with the traumatic events of her past. We hope that the unambiguous jurisprudence of the German judiciary will ensure that our client will eventually be able to find her peace.“
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and President of Nadia's Initiative Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by ISIS, adds: “I commend the German courts for convicting Omaima A. and especially for holding a second trial to ensure that the true scope of her crimes were addressed. Each survivor deserves to see their abuser held accountable and their suffering acknowledged in a court of law. I and many other survivors have been waiting for seven years for the prosecutions of ISIS members. Germany’s efforts have begun the process, but when will other nations follow suit? How much longer will we have to wait?”.
Natia Navrouzov, Legal Advocacy Director at global Yazidi NGO Yazda, which is also represented by Ms. Clooney and has helped identify and locate victims in several criminal proceedings in different jurisdictions, comments on the judgment: “It Is good to see that the German authorities are ready to go through with their investigations and do not hesitate to convict ISIS members for the full extent of the crimes committed, even if this means having a second trial. This will give hope to other Yazidi victims and will help them to come forward, even years after, even against someone who was already convicted.”
For a German version of this press release, please click here.
For an Arabic version, please click here.
Note to editors:
The first trial against this defendant before the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg resulted in a conviction in October 2020, which was later upheld by the German Federal Court. This was the first conviction of an ISIS returnee in Germany for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed against the Yazidis. In this earlier case the Court found that Omaima A. and her then-husband Nadar H. had joined ISIS in Syria in early 2015. She later married Denis Cuspert, a German rapper from Berlin and prominent propagandist for the IS media outlet ‘AI-Hayat‘, who is believed to have died in 2018. After she returned to Germany a Lebanese journalist - who got hold of her smartphone left behind in Syria - published a video about her life in the Islamic State. At that time, she was already monitored very closely by German investigators. A few months later, Omaima A. was arrested.
Previously, German courts also convicted ISIS returnees Nurten J. and Sarah O. of (aiding and abetting) crimes against humanity committed against the Yazidis. Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen and Sonka Mehner represented the victim participating in these trials.
Two other trials – one against Jennifer W. and another one against her husband Taha A.-J. – in which the participating victim is represented by Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen and Jörg Oesterle, are still ongoing.
Under German law, victims of grave crimes have the right to participate in criminal proceedings as ‘co-plaintiffs’ or ‘private accessory prosecutors’ alongside the prosecution and defence.
The victims are part of a witness protection program. For the victims’ safety, their identities cannot be revealed.
German law also does not permit disclosure of defendants’ full surnames.