Amal Clooney, Natalie von Wistinghausen, and Sonka Mehner represent a victim participating in the case
Düsseldorf, 23 March 2021
A German court in Düsseldorf has started the trial of an alleged ISIS member known as ‘Nurten J’ for international crimes committed against Yazidi victims. The Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf is now hearing the case against this 35-year-old woman charged with a number of crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, membership in a foreign terrorist organization, and violations of the German War Weapons Control Act.
According to the indictment, the defendant, a German national, traveled to Syria in 2015 together with her then three-year-old daughter to join ISIS. In Syria, she married a high-ranking German ISIS fighter named Ismael S. who allegedly worked for ISIS’ media center al-Hayat. The family lived in apartments that had been seized by ISIS from their rightful occupants. Throughout 2016 and 2017, the defendant received regular visits from her friend Sarah O. – another German ISIS member who is on trial before the same Court in Düsseldorf. At the request of the defendant, Sarah O. brought along an enslaved Yazidi woman, who was used by the defendant to clean her house and look after her daughter. The defendant was fully aware that the woman was a Yazidi woman enslaved by ISIS in the course of its genocidal campaign. After ISIS lost its territory in Syria, the defendant and her family were captured by Kurdish forces. Her husband was arrested and put in a Kurdish prison. The defendant and her children were brought to the al-Hol camp. Ultimately, the defendant was able to flee with her children to Turkey and then return to Germany. She was arrested on her arrival on 24 July 2020.
Amal Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, and German attorneys Natalie von Wistinghausen and Sonka Mehner represent the Yazidi woman who has joined the criminal proceedings against the defendant as ‘private accessory prosecutor’. She testified in court in Germany on 10 and 17 March 2021 and gave a detailed account of her suffering over a number of years in ISIS captivity, including enslavement, violence, rape, constant fear, and the loss and disappearance of numerous family members. She made it clear to the judges that she was seeking justice not only for herself and her community but also for all other victims of such atrocious crimes. As she put it:
“By speaking up, I want to prevent other communities from having to experience what I have experienced. But if I remain silent and others remain silent as well, and if no one raises their voice, then this is going to happen again and again.”
The victim belongs to the Yazidi community in Northern Iraq that – starting in August 2014 - was targeted by ISIS through a campaign of executions, enslavement, sexual violence, and forced recruitment of child soldiers, as well as the forcible displacement of an estimated 400,000 Yazidis from their homeland. She spent more than three years in ISIS captivity, during which she was sold at a ‘slave market’, given away as a ‘gift’ or in exchange for other Yazidi women fourteen times, and raped by twelve different men.
Speaking about the opening of this latest trial Amal Clooney said: “Thanks to the incredible bravery of a Yazidi woman and the determination of the German authorities to prosecute genocide and crimes against humanity, survivors of ISIS’ crimes are one step closer to bringing ISIS to justice.”
Natalie von Wistinghausen said: “The testimony of our client is crucial for the German court and the public to hear and to understand the crude reality and the brutality with which Yazidi women were mistreated and their dignity was taken away from them, not to mention the tragic loss of their beloved ones.”
Sonka Mehner added: "The opportunity to tell her story in court is an important step to come to terms with her past. Her detailed account still reverberates. She has set a milestone for her people and for herself and has shown incredible strength.”
The victim was identified with the help of the global Yazidi NGO Yazda. The NGO, also represented by Ms Clooney, has been supporting survivors and documenting crimes committed by ISIS since its inception in early 2015. Its documentation project has also been instrumental to the identification of victims in other trials and criminal investigations.
Yazda’s President Haider Elias commented on the trial: "We commend German federal prosecutors` role in rendering justice and working on behalf of the Yazidi victims who have been the prey of ISIS barbarity. This event is a milestone for the Yazidi survivors, and we certainly hope many other nations follow this valiant example to bring perpetrators to justice for their heinous crimes".
For a German version of this press release, please click here.
For an Arabic version, please click here.
Note to editors:
*German law does not permit disclosure of defendants’ full surnames.
*The victims are part of a witness protection program. For the victims’ safety, their identity cannot be revealed.
*The trial against Nurten J. is the fifth trial in Germany in which Ms. Clooney, together with a German co-counsel, represents victims in criminal proceedings against ISIS fighters. In April 2019, the first alleged ISIS member was put on trial in Munich. The German national Jennifer W. has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity including the murder of a 5-year old Yazidi girl. One year later, Jennifer W.’s husband and alleged co-perpetrator Taha A.-J. were put on trial before the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt in the first genocide trial against an ISIS member. Criminal proceedings are also ongoing against alleged ISIS member Sarah O. on charges including war crimes, human trafficking, and deprivation of liberty involving Yazidi victims. The verdicts in these three cases are expected before the summer. One ISIS female known as Omaima A. has already been convicted - in October 2020 - of aiding in the enslavement of a Yazidi girl and being a member of a foreign terrorist organization, among other crimes, and is currently serving a 3,5-year sentence.