German Federal Court of Justice confirms the first-ever conviction of an ISIS member for genocide
Press statement by victim’s counsel Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen, Dr. Jörg Oesterle, Yazidi NGO Yazda and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad
In a decision published last week, the German Federal Court of Justice confirmed the conviction against ISIS member Taha A.-J. for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against Yazidi victims in Fallujah, Iraq. In November 2021, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt convicted Iraqi national Taha in a landmark trial for his enslavement and abuse of a Yazidi woman and her five-year-old daughter which resulted in the girl’s death. Both the genocide conviction and life sentence were affirmed on appeal, and no further appeal is possible. This is the first-ever conviction of an ISIS member for genocide anywhere in the world, and the judgment is now final.
The Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt found in its November 2021 judgment that:
In the summer of 2015, ISIS member Taha ‘purchased’ and, together with his wife, enslaved a five-year-old Yazidi girl named Reda and her mother.
Reda and her mother were part of a group of Yazidi prisoners and the couple held them as captives at their residence in Fallujah. They forced them to practice Islam, work as slaves and deprived them of sufficient food.
Both captives were violently beaten by Taha and subjected to other abuse; mother and daughter lived in constant fear.
Reda ultimately died after Taha tied her with a cable outdoors to the bars of the window and left her in the scorching heat of up to 51 degrees Celsius as a punishment for wetting the bed and a measure to ‘discipline’ the girl.
Through the physical and psychological damage caused to his Yazidi slaves, Taha wanted to make a purposeful contribution to ISIS’ declared goal of destroying the Yazidi faith and its members – who he deemed ‘worthless’ – in order to establish an Islamic caliphate.
The defendant appealed the conviction and sentence but the appeal was rejected. Instead, the German Federal Court of Justice confirmed the Higher Regional Court’s factual findings, supported the legal assessment that the defendant is guilty of genocide and upheld the life sentence.
The Federal Court of Justice confirmed that ‘[t]he defendant's actions, which caused serious harm to Reda [and her mother], in conjunction with similar actions by other lSIS members, were capable of destroying the Kurdish religious group of the Yazidi faith’. The Court added that ‘[i]t was precisely the organised enslavement of women and girls, especially in connection with religious re-education, that served to destroy the Yazidis religious minority in order to establish an Islamic caliphate. All in all, the approach was capable of bringing about … the (partial) destruction of this group as such.’
Reda’s mother participated in the proceedings against Taha as a co-plaintiff after the NGO Yazda identified her, located her in Iraq and facilitated her participation in the proceedings. Yazda has collected thousands of testimonies from Yazidi survivors and had interviewed the co-plaintiff two years prior to the start of the trial. During the trial, she was represented by a legal team consisting of Amal Clooney and German lawyers Natalie von Wistinghausen and Dr. Jörg Oesterle.
Commenting on the appeal decision, victim’s counsel Amal Clooney said: ‘With this judgment, Germany’s highest court has confirmed that ISIS committed genocide. My client bravely testified against her abuser and can now breathe a sigh of relief: the man who enslaved her, killed her daughter and sought to wipe out her community has been sentenced to life in prison. I congratulate the German prosecutors who brought this case and hope that others around the world will follow their example.'
Natalie von Wistinghausen and Dr. Jörg Oesterle commented: ‘This decision is the result of a thorough review of the facts and its legal consequences. Its importance for our client and her community cannot be overestimated. It sends out yet another strong signal that the crimes committed can and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and will hopefully bring some peace to our client. Only her courageous testimony made this conviction possible. It is particularly fitting that this landmark decision was published just a couple of days before on 19th January 2023 the German Parliament took another important and long-awaited step by publicly recognizing the genocide of the Yazidi.’
Natia Navrouzov, Legal Advocacy Director at the global NGO Yazda added: ‘This first genocide conviction at the end of 2021 was welcomed as a historical decision by the Yazidi community, including the community in Iraq. We commend Germany for confirming it and setting it in stone.’
Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who is herself a survivor of enslavement and torture at the hands of ISIS, commented: ‘Today is yet another step toward justice for myself and other Yazidi survivors. Convictions of ISIS members for genocide are vital to our healing process; they let us know that the world has seen, and condemns, the efforts to eradicate the Yazidi people. Taha A.-J. was the first to be convicted of genocide, but he will not be the last.’
From August 2014, the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria was targeted by ISIS through an organised campaign of executions, enslavement, sexual violence, and forced recruitment of child soldiers, as well as the forced displacement of an estimated 400,000 Yazidis from their homeland in Iraq. Almost 9 years after ISIS’ onslaught began, thousands of Yazidi women and children who were abducted and enslaved by ISIS remain missing. These crimes have been recognised by the United Nations, national and international bodies and, more recently, German courts as amounting to genocide.
German courts have so far convicted two ISIS members of genocide for their crimes against the Yazidis.
The judgment issued by the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt in November 2021 against Iraqi national Taha A.-J. represents the first conviction of an ISIS member for genocide anywhere in the world. Although Taha is not a German national, his victims are not German and his crimes have not been committed on German territory, German courts have jurisdiction over the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under the principle of universal jurisdiction. His wife, ‘Jennifer W.’, a German national, was sentenced in a separate trial to 10 years in prison for her own involvement in the crimes against Reda and her mother. An appeal hearing in the case against Jennifer W. took place today before the Federal Court of Justice. The Court will issue its decision on 9 March 2023.
A second genocide conviction was handed down in July 2022 against German ISIS returnee Jalda A. by the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg. The judgment is final as the defendant has withdrawn her appeal.
The recent case against Nadine K. before the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz is the third trial charging genocide.
German courts have previously also convicted 5 additional ISIS members of crimes against humanity and war crimes for their involvement in ISIS’ crimes against the Yazidis in 6 cases. These are the cases against Jennifer W., Sarah O., Nurten J., Omaima A. (who faced two separate trials) and Romiena S.
Ms. Clooney, Ms. von Wistinghausen, Ms. Mehner and/or Mr. Oesterle represent(ed) the Yazidi victims in all nine cases.
Please find the Arabic translation of the press release here.