15 October 2019
On 9 October 2019, Taha A.-J., a 27-year-old Iraqi national, was transferred from Greece to Germany to stand trial for alleged crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, human trafficking and war crimes, including the murder of a five-year-old Yazidi girl. Amal Clooney, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, and Natalie von Wistinghausen, a German attorney, are counsel to the child’s mother. They will act as victim’s counsel in the case according to the provisions of German law.
Taha A.-J. is the husband and alleged co-perpetrator of Jennifer W., a 28-year-old German citizen who is currently on trial before the Higher Regional Court of Munich for a war crime and crimes against humanity committed against Yazidi victims. Both Taha A.-J. and Jennifer W. face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.
According to the arrest warrant, Taha A.-J. joined the terrorist group "Islamic State" (ISIS) sometime before March 2013. In the summer of 2015, he and his wife “purchased” and enslaved a five-year-old Yazidi girl and her mother who were part of a group of prisoners of war. They held the child and her mother as captives at their residence in Fallujah, where they forced them to convert to Islam and prevented them from practicing their own religion. Both were violently beaten by Taha A.-J., often at the instigation of his wife. One day, he chained the child outdoors and they left her to die of thirst in scorching temperatures.
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 forcible displacement of an estimated 400,000 Yazidis from their homeland in Iraq. These crimes have been recognised by the United Nations, the German Federal Court of Justice, and other national and international bodies as amounting to genocide.
According to victim’s counsel Amal Clooney: “The arrest of Taha A.-J. is a milestone for survivors of ISIS’ brutal crimes. This is the first time a member of ISIS will face trial for the crime of genocide, anywhere in the world. But as this suspect is apprehended, hundreds of alleged ISIS fighters have reportedly walked free in Syria. I commend the German prosecution for their commitment to justice. But survivors have long argued that a global response to ISIS must include a global commitment to bringing them to justice. What we have seen so far is too little, and soon it may be too late”.
According to victim’s counsel Natalie von Wistinghausen: “The prosecution of Taha A.-J. finally is the opportunity to hold the main perpetrator accountable for the violence inflicted upon my client and her daughter. The arrest of Mr. A.-J. and the prospect of a trial against him in Germany is a great relief to her. Since her liberation she never believed she would one day face him in a court of justice”.
According to Murad Ismael, Executive Director of the Yazidi Global NGO Yazda: “We are delighted genocide charges are presented against an ISIS member at a German court. Victims of the Yazidi genocide have waited five long years for justice to be served. Every single member of ISIS should be held accountable for their actions against Yazidis and all communities in Iraq and Syria. Yazda and its partners will continue efforts to document ISIS’ horrific crimes and support victims in their pursuit for justice, including support for trials in international and national courts."
Note to editors:
Taha A.-J. was arrested in Greece in May 2019. The legal basis for his arrest and subsequent transfer to Germany was an arrest warrant issued by the German Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe on 18 April 2019 where Taha A.-J. had his first appearance on the 10th of October. A judge informed him of the arrest warrant and ordered his pre-trial detention. Although Taha A.-J. is not a German national, his victims are not German and his crimes have not been committed on Germany territory, German courts have jurisdiction over the crimes genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Under German law, victims of grave crimes have rights as ‘private accessory prosecutors’ and can participate fully in the proceedings alongside the prosecution and defence.
For a German version, please click here.
For an Arabic version, please click here.
For Amal Clooney’s statement at the UN General Assembly on international accountability options for ISIS’s crimes, please click here.
For a statement on the trial against Jennifer W. case, please click here.