The Case of Taha Al-J
By HANNA BAJWA
Nadia Murad (left) and Lamiya Aji Bashar (right), two Islamic State survivors and Iraqi Yazidi activists, receiving the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought at the European Parliament in 2016.
Identified only as Taha Al-J under German privacy laws, Taha Al-J is the first member of the Islamic State (IS) to be found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the Yazidi in Iraq, including the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl.
The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority that were persecuted by IS after they seized large amounts of territory in Syria and Iraq in early 2014. Thousands were killed, enslaved, and raped after the ancestral heartland of the Yazidis in northern Iraq were infiltrated by IS fighters. Under the IS, Yazidi men and boys were separated from the women and girls, the former shot or forced to fight for IS, and the latter abducted as the ‘spoils of war’, handed as ‘gifts’ to IS members or sold into slavery. IS is believed to have killed more than 3000 Yazidis and captured over 6000.
This landmark case in Germany marks the first conviction of an IS member for genocide anywhere in the world.
Taha Al-J has been part of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) for the past 8 years. In the summer of 2015, Taha Al-J and his wife enslaved a Yazidi girl and her mother, holding them captives at their residence, forcing them to practise Islam and work as slaves, and subjecting them to various forms of abuse. The Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt sentenced Taha Al-J to life imprisonment for these actions, as well as being involved with the Yazidi genocide. Reda, the five-year-old Yazidi girl held captive by Taha Al-J and his wife, was left chained outdoors in the sun in 50-degree Celsius heat and eventually died of thirst. His wife, Jennifer Wenisch, was sentenced to 10 years in prison earlier this year in October in relation to the killing. Reda’s mother participated in the proceedings as a co-plaintiff and was present in the courtroom when the judgement was handed out. She is also set to receive 50,000€ (over £42,000) from Taha Al-J. The NGO Yazda, which gathers evidence of crimes against the Yazidi, and were also responsible for freeing Reda’s mother, said the outcome was what “every single Yazidi and all genocide survivors were hoping to see”.
Why is the case taking place in Germany? Even though neither the victim nor the killer were German, and the crime occurred in Falluja, Iraq, the trial was held in Germany on the principle of universal jurisdiction. Over the years Germany has become a hub for prosecutions using ‘universal jurisdiction’, which allows for the pursuit of crimes committed overseas when charges are deemed ‘sufficiently grave’.
Significantly, Germany is the home to a large Yazidi community. The trial in Frankfurt is one in a series of trials taking place in German courts in which neither defendants nor victims are German, in addition to the crimes not being committed on German soil.
Besides the cases of Taha Al-J and his wife, Wenisch, three other former IS members have been convicted for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity against Yazidis.
Why is this ruling so significant? For one, it is the first time the main perpetrator is being held accountable for the violence they have caused to a victim. Secondly, after seven years it has finally been confirmed that Yazidis have suffered genocide, officially recognised by the United Nations, the German Federal Court of Justice, and other national and international bodies. And lastly, it has created a springboard for further change.
Former Yazidi slave and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nadia Murad, who has been on the forefront of a campaign for IS crimes against Yazidis, has called on the UN Security Council to make a change: either refer cases involving crimes against the Yazidis to the ICC (International Criminal Court) or to create a specific tribunal for genocide committed against the community.
Image: Flickr (European Union 2016 - European Parliament)