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German court delivers third genocide verdict against ISIS member

for the enslavement and abuse of Yazidi woman in Syria and Iraq


Press statement by victim’s counsel Amal Clooney, Sonka Mehner and Natalie von Wistinghausen and Yazidi NGO Yazda.


[Source Credit: Doughty Street Chambers]

Press statement by victim’s counsel Amal Clooney, Sonka Mehner and Natalie von Wistinghausen and Yazidi NGO Yazda.


Koblenz, 21 June 2023

In a milestone decision, the Higher Regional Court of Koblenz convicted German national ‘Nadine K.’ of aiding and abetting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the enslavement and abuse of a young Yazidi woman in support of ISIS’ brutal campaign to eradicate the Yazidi religious minority. The 37-year-old former ISIS member has been handed a sentence of 9 years and 3 months in prison. This marks the third conviction of an ISIS member for genocide perpetrated against the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria since August 2014.


The three-judge trial chamber delivered its oral judgment today after 30 trial days, finding that:

  • The defendant and her husband joined ISIS in late 2014 after the terrorist group had invaded the Sinjar region of Iraq and carried out mass executions of Yazidi men and elderly women and subjected younger women and children to abduction, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment for ISIS.

  • In Iraq and Syria, the defendant’s husband worked as a doctor for ISIS, treating ISIS fighters among other patients.

  • In 2016, he was ‘gifted’ a 21-year-old Yazidi woman (referred to as ‘N’.) by another ISIS member.

  • For three years, until March 2019, and across different locations, the couple held N. as a slave in their home, where she was raped and subjected to forced labour.

  • The defendant knew that her husband regularly beat and raped N., and chose not to intervene although she ‘could and should have’. The defendant secured N.’s captivity and, by doing so, facilitated the abuse of the victim. The defendant did not act out of fear but to further ISIS’ ideology which she identified with.

  • The defendant and her husband treated the Yazidi woman as their property and forced her to work for them and adhere to Islamic practices by praying five times a day and observing fasting during Ramadan.

  • The defendant knew about ISIS’ genocidal campaign against the Yazidis and she knew that her actions served ISIS’ declared goal of destroying the Yazidi faith.

  • After ISIS’ defeat, N.’s ordeal continued as she was captured along with the defendant’s family by Kurdish forced and transferred to and held at Al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria among ISIS members until she was able to escape with the help of a British journalist.

N., who was the key witness in the case, travelled from Iraq to Germany to confront her perpetrator in court. She participated as a co-plaintiff in the proceedings and was represented by German lawyers Sonka Mehner and Natalie von Wistinghausen and British barrister Amal Clooney. She testified in court over 6 days, recounting through a Kurmanji interpreter the crimes she endured in the defendant’s household. Despite the immense emotional challenge, her unwavering determination to face the accused and to share her story remained unbroken.


Following the judgement, which she attended in person with her husband, N. stated: ’I would like to express special thanks to the investigating authorities, the federal prosecutors, the judges, and the Federal Republic of Germany for conducting proceedings against ISIS members, for the rule of law prevailing here, and for providing solace and justice to the victims of ISIS’ cruel practices. The justice that I hope to achieve through this trial not only concerns me personally but also our Yazidi community.… I allow myself to speak on behalf of all survivors, stating that as individuals and as a Yazidi community, we can only process what happened to us if we experience justice.’


The global Yazidi NGO Yazda, which is also represented by Ms. Clooney, and has collected thousands of Yazidi survivors’ testimonies, played an instrumental role in ensuring the key witness’ participation in the trial.


Victim’s counsel Amal Clooney commented on the trial: ‘The first conviction of an ISIS member for genocide came two years ago, and now we have the third. We have reached these milestones because of the bravery of survivors, like my client, who were raped and enslaved by ISIS but were determined to face their abusers in the dock. In this trial my client stared down the ISIS member who enslaved her for three years. And today, she won. Thank you to Germany, which has led the world in bringing ISIS to justice. As the judge said in court today – there is a word for what ISIS did: and it is genocide. Thanks to trials like this, the world knows this. And the survivors deserve nothing less.’


Sonka Mehner who represented the survivor during the trial commented: ’The tragic accounts of our client got under the skin of everyone present. I am sure that with her testimony before a German court, she has achieved her goal of bringing the cruel fate of the Yazidi religious community to the attention of the world, in addition to her own, in order to prevent repetition.’


Natalie von Wistinghausen added: ‘Listening to N.’s harrowing accounts, the courage she found to come here and to address the judges and her perseverance really against all odds is something that I find truly humbling. She send a strong message by wearing a Yazidi traditional dress when she attended the hearing today: ISIS hasn't and never will succeed in destroying the Yazidi culture and identity.‘


Delkhwaz Haciy, Yazda’s Senior Legal Officer attended the court to hear the verdict commented: ‘We commend today’s genocide conviction of an ISIS member by the German government for the crimes committed against the Yazidis. To ensure a comprehensive and fair legal process, it is important for the German criminal legal system to consider facilitating full victim participation from the pre-trial to the post-conviction phases. Enabling victims to actively engage throughout the trial, including being present for the verdict announcement, holds significant value in their pursuit of justice. It offers them an opportunity to directly confront their perpetrator in a court of law, share their testimony, and regain a sense of empowerment that was forcibly taken away from them. Moreover, it allows them to begin the healing process and rebuild their lives with dignity. We are pleased that we could facilitate N's presence in person for the announcement of the verdict today and we are committed to ensure more Yazidi victims have their day in court and receive the justice they deserve.’


Background

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’ attack, thousands of Yazidis who were abducted and enslaved by ISIS remain missing, mass graves remain unexhumed and Iraq has yet to engage in criminal prosecution of ISIS members for international crimes, due to the absence of a legal framework. These crimes have been recognised by the United Nations, national and international bodies and, more recently, German courts as amounting to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.


German courts have now convicted three 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 and it was recently confirmed on appeal. A second genocide conviction followed in May 2022 against German ISIS returnee Jalda A. and today’s verdict against Nadine K. marks the third genocide conviction of an ISIS member.


German courts have previously also convicted 5 other 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 and/or Ms. Mehner, represented the Yazidi victims in all of these cases. Yazda also provided crucial support to these cases by providing key evidence, identifying the victim and supporting victims to participate in the trials.


The defendant, Nadine K., was captured by Kurdish forces in 2019 as she and her family attempted to flee from Syria to Turkey. She and her children were detained in camps in northern Syria until their repatriation to Germany in March 2022. She was arrested upon her arrival and indicted in September 2022.


Note to editors:

Under German law, victims of grave crimes have the right to participate in criminal proceedings as ‘co-plaintiffs’ alongside the prosecution and defence. For her safety, the victim’s identity is not being revealed. She is therefore referred to as ‘N’ in this statement.


German law normally also does not permit disclosure of defendants’ full surnames. The defendant is therefore identified as ‘Nadine K.’ throughout this statement.

 

(c) 2023, Doughty Street Chambers

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