BERLIN — A German court on Tuesday convicted an Islamic State fighter for crimes against humanity and war crimes for tying up a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had bought as a slave in Iraq, and leaving her in scorching heat to die of thirst.
The 29-year-old man, identified only as Taha Al-J. under German privacy laws, was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay 50,000 euros, or about $57,000, in compensation to the girl’s mother, who was a co-plaintiff in the case and was present when the verdict was read.
It was the first genocide conviction of a fighter for the Islamic State, which systematically persecuted the Yazidi ethnic group in Iraq, according to Christoph Koller, the judge overseeing the trial in Frankfurt. During its reign, the Islamic State killed thousands of Yazidi men, and kidnapped and forced into slavery thousands of Yazidi women and girls.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” Amal Clooney, a human rights lawyer and a member of the mother’s legal team, said in a statement. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide.”
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, which German courts have been using to try people accused of war crimes in countries like Iraq and Syria.
During the trial, which started in April 2020, the mother testified that she and her child were held captive by Taha Al-J. and his wife, Jennifer W., for several months in 2015 after the couple purchased them as slaves.
At their home in Falluja, Iraq, the mother said she was forced to do menial work in tough conditions, while the girl was supposed stay out of the way. One day, after the 5-year-old girl had wet her bed, Taha Al-J. took her out into the midday heat and tied her to a window grate, and left her there to die of thirst, she testified.
The girl’s mother, whose identity is being kept secret for safety reasons, lives in Germany under a witness-protection program. According to Deutsche Welle, she testified through a translator on five different occasions in Frankfurt.
Taha Al-J. was arrested in Athens in May 2019 on a European arrest warrant and extradited to Germany under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Last month, in a separate trial held in Munich, Jennifer W., who is a German citizen, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allowing the girl to die.
The trial in Frankfurt is one in a series of trials brought to German courts in which neither defendants nor victims are German and crimes were not committed on German soil.
This summer the German federal prosecutor indicted a Syrian doctor for crimes against humanity for torturing and killing at least one victim for the Assad regime. Since April of 2020, Anwar Raslan, a colonel who worked in a secret prison in Syria, has been on trial in a court in the western German city of Koblenz. And Eyad al-Gharib, a lower-ranking Syrian official who worked in the same prison, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for crimes against humanity this April by the same court.
Ms. Clooney wrote that she was “grateful to Germany for defending the principle of universal jurisdiction which means that crimes like this must be prosecuted wherever and whenever they occur.”
Roger Lu Phillips, the legal director of the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center in Washington, said that European courts have the obligation to prosecute such crimes if the perpetrators are in Europe. But he warned that single trials under the universal jurisdiction principle were not enough when dealing with crimes committed by the Islamic State.
“The capacity of these courts is really a drop in the bucket when compared with the magnitude of crimes committed by ISIS,” said Mr. Phillips. “A more comprehensive process must be pursued, such as a special court for ISIS.”