(Photo by Ahmed Ibrahim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Germany/Iraq: World’s first judgment on crime of genocide against the Yazidis

In the world’s first criminal trial addressing genocide against the Yazidis, today the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt, Germany, convicted Taha Al J. for genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first time a former member of the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) has been convicted of genocide.

On August 3, 2014, the IS launched an offensive against the Sinjar region of northern Iraq and carried out large-scale massacres against the civilian population. This involved mass killings, sexual violence, torture and enslavement. Over 5,000 people were killed and over 400,000 people were displaced from their homes. To date, more than 2,800 Yazidi women and children are still held captive by the IS or remain missing.

The defendant Taha Al J. was convicted of genocide for purchasing a Yazidi woman and her five-year-old daughter as slaves in 2015. The Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt held that Taha Al J. – as a member of IS – intended to eliminate the religious minority of the Yazidis by purchasing the two Yazidi women and enslaving them. The defendant punished the Yazidi girl by cuffing her to a window in the scorching heat, unprotected from the sun and letting her die in front of her mother. Taha Al J. was therefore found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.  

“Today’s historic verdict confirms for the first time in a courtroom that the acts of the Islamic State against the Yazidi religious community in northern Iraq amount to the crime of genocide. Survivors who participated in the case underlined in harrowing detail the systematic nature of the targeted extermination of Yazidis in Iraq,” Meike Olszak, Expert in International Criminal law at Amnesty International in Germany.

“Seven years after the genocide, it was time to move forward in the fight against impunity for crimes against Yazidis and bring justice to the victims!” said Pari Ibrahim, an Iraqi Yazidi survivor, “But the verdict can only be a beginning, further proceedings must follow in order to bring to light the truth about the serious crimes against my religious community”.

The trial was remarkable in several respects. It is also the first trial based on the principle of universal jurisdiction addressing crimes under international law that were committed abroad, by a perpetrator who is not a German citizen and who was only extradited to Germany on the basis of an international arrest warrant.

“The process in Frankfurt is an important step. But further trials are needed, particularly into gender-based violence such as mass rapes, forced marriages and other forms of sexualized violence”, said Alexander Schwarz, Amnesty International Germany, International Law Expert.

The trial of Taha Al J. in Frankfurt began in April 2020. The German International Criminal Law coordination group was monitoring the proceedings before the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt from the very beginning.