Extraterritorial justice: a source of great hope for Yazidi victims

Three recent verdicts by German courts in Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt concerning the Yazidi minority are historic, writes Geneva-based lawyer Alain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima

In the space of a few months, German courts in three different cities have handed down major judgments in cases of sexual and other forms of enslavement by Daesh/ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The cases concern women from the Yazidi community, a monotheistic religious minority in Syria and Iraq, which has been a prime target of Daesh fighters. A court in Hamburg sentenced a German-Tunisian woman for membership of a terrorist organization and then in July to an additional prison sentence for acts of sexual slavery against two Yazidi women in Syria. The woman is the widow of German rapper Deso Dogg, who joined Daesh in 2014 and was killed in 2018 in an air strike.

In October this year, a Munich court sentenced Jennifer Wenisch, a German national, to 10 years’ imprisonment for the murder of a 5-year-old Yazidi child in Iraq. The child was enslaved with her mother by Jennifer Wenisch and her husband, Taha al-Jumailly. In addition to other terrible abuses, the child had been chained outside in the scorching heat, resulting in her death. A third case in Germany, also followed by Le Temps, resulted in a landmark conviction by the Frankfurt Regional High Court last week: Jennifer Wenish’s husband, Taha al-Jumailly, a 29-year-old Iraqi, was convicted of acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including the murder of the Yazidi child in Fallujah, whose mother he had bought as a sex slave. This is the first time that Daesh’s actions against the Yazidi community have been legally recognized as acts of genocide.

The competence of national courts

At a time when the international community remains totally unable to establish real international justice for the heinous crimes committed for over a decade in Syria and Iraq, these three landmark cases were all tried by German national courts for crimes committed by Daesh on an extraterritorial basis. This allows, under certain conditions, to establish the jurisdiction of national courts when a person suspected of international crimes is on its territory (principle of universal jurisdiction), or possesses its nationality (principle of active personality). This is the case even if the person has not committed any crime on the territory of the country concerned.

These cases demonstrate once again that prosecutions based on these principles are often the best, if not the only, option for victims. The increase in the practice, and thus the jurisprudence of such trials, is a source of immense hope for all those who have suffered international crimes. The precedent set by these German judgments on crimes against the Yazidis should hopefully also help other communities to have crimes against them recognized and judged.

The plight of Christian Women in the Middle East

The story of a Christian woman in Iraq, raped by dozens and dozens of Daesh men, sold and resold as a sex slave twelve times over a period of two years from Qaraqosh in Iraq to Raqqa in Syria, comes to mind. The unheard-of ordeal of this woman has been vividly recounted by Sara Daniel and Benoît Kanabus in La Putain du Califat, published this year by Grasset Editions. Many are the similarities between the abuses suffered by Yazidis and Christian women in the region. The case against Jennifer Wenisch revealed her role in Daesh’s “virtue patrols” – checking the conformity of women’s clothing with the rules of the Islamic State – in Fallujah and Mosul.

The book La Putain du Califat tells a story that echoes this quite closely. The Christian woman was sold to a member of Daesh, whose wife, a French national, was part of al-Khansa, the virtue brigade and walked the streets of Raqqa “looking for sisters with abayas that were too tight or too shiny”, and “tore off the varnished nails that she uncovered under the gloves with pliers, biting the breasts with steel teeth until they were killed“. It is to be hoped that such extraterritorial proceedings will multiply for the countless crimes committed against the Yazidis. And that these precedents will finally help Christians in the Middle East to obtain justice, especially for the barbaric acts of sexual slavery committed against the women of this religious minority in the region.


The article first appeared on Le Temps in French, on the 6th of December, 2021.
Image Credit: © Frank Rumpenhorst/Pool via AP Photo via Keystone

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