Germany convicts ISIS member for crimes against Yazidis

Earlier this week, on 16 June 2021, the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf convicted a German ISIS member of crimes against humanity. 

After more than 1.5 years and 92 trial days, the court found the defendant, known as ‘Sarah O.’, guilty of membership in a foreign terrorist organisation, assault, deprivation of liberty, aiding and abetting rape, enslavement and religious and gender-based persecution as crimes against humanity. The 23-year-old German woman, who also holds Algerian nationality, was sentenced to six years and six months in prison. 

“This is the third conviction of an ISIS member in Germany for crimes against humanity committed against Yazidis and another important step towards justice. But most ISIS leaders have yet to face justice. And Germany should not be pursuing them on its own,” said Amal Clooney, one of three counsel representing one of the women abused in Sarah O.’s home. 

In 2013, Sarah O. travelled to Syria to join ISIS – like over 1000 others who left Germany to join ISIS’ ranks abroad. She married ‘Ismail S’, a German-Turkish national who is still wanted by German authorities. 

From 2015, the couple began to enslave Yazidi women and girls who had been kidnapped during ISIS’ genocidal campaign and ‘sold’ to ISIS fighters. Over two years, they imprisoned seven Yazidi women, some of whom were ‘resold’ to others. One 14-year-old girl died while in captivity. 

During this time, Sarah O. routinely subjected captives to beatings and she aided and abetted sexual violence by her husband of at least two of them, including by ‘preparing them’ for rape. She also forced the Yazidis to do slave labour. 

Based on the testimonies of victims participating in the trial, the Chamber extended the initial charges against Sarah O. to include crimes against humanity as well as physical and sexual assault. And following submissions by the victims’ counsel, the Chamber expanded the charges to include religious and gender-based persecution as a crime against humanity. 

"Thanks to the victims, the full extent of the defendant’s criminal conduct could be established,” said Sonka Mehner. Natalie von Wistinghausen added that “for the first time ever, a court handed down a conviction for religious and gender-based persecution and this recognition is of utmost importance for our client and for all Yazidi women, for their religious community as a whole, as well as for other victims of gender-based violence.” 

The woman represented by Ms. Clooney, Ms. Mehner and Ms. von Wistinghausen – who was also the main witness in the recently-concluded criminal trial of ISIS member Nurten J. – was present when the judges announced the verdict against Sarah O. Following the judgment, she stated that: 

“No conviction can make up for our suffering, but I am immensely grateful to the German Federal Prosecutors and the German court for investigating and shedding light on the crimes committed against the Yazidis and I hope that many more countries will follow this good example."

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