German woman convicted of a crime against humanity in death of Yazidi child
By Melissa Eddy
A criminal court in Munich sentenced a German convert to Islam to 10 years in prison earlier this week, finding the woman guilty of supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and a crime against humanity for leaving a 5-year-old Yazidi girl to die of thirst in the scorching heat.
The sentencing of the 30-year-old woman, identified only as Jennifer W., in keeping with German privacy law, brought to a close one of the highest-profile cases involving crimes committed by an Islamic State member against the Yazidi people.
The child and her mother were among thousands of Yazidi women and girls abducted and sold to the Islamic State group as slaves. They were being held captive by Jennifer W. and her husband and forced to work under dire conditions over several months in 2015, the girl’s mother told the court. The husband would beat them, the mother said, while Jennifer W. did nothing to stop him.
Prosecutors said the girl died at the couple’s home in Fallujah, Iraq. She was being punished for wetting the bed, her mother said.
Even though the girl’s death occurred in Iraq, Germany was able to prosecute Jennifer W. because she is a German citizen.
Amal Clooney, a human rights lawyer who was part of a legal team representing the child’s mother in the case, welcomed the conviction, the fifth time that a German court found a former member of the Islamic State guilty of crimes against humanity in connection with their treatment of Yazidi victims.
“It is a significant milestone for my client, a remarkably brave woman who lost her child in brutal conditions,” Clooney said in a statement. “And it is a victory for everyone who believes in justice. I am grateful to the German prosecutors for bringing this case and I hope that we will see a more concerted global effort to bring ISIS to justice,” she added, using an alternate name for the Islamic State group.
The presiding judge, Joachim Baier, found the defendant guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization abroad, as well as aiding and abetting attempted murder and a crime against humanity resulting in death. The child was left “helpless and defenseless,” in the direct sunlight, and the defendant did not help the girl, although that would have been “possible and expected,” he said in his ruling.
The girl’s mother, who is part of a witness-protection program and whose identity has not been revealed out of concern for her safety, testified that as she realized what was happening to her child, she began crying in distress. She told the court that in response, Jennifer W. had threatened to shoot her if she did not stop.
Jennifer W. looked shocked when the verdict was announced, staring first at her hands and then at the ceiling as the judge read out the ruling, German news media reported. She had denied the charges, insisting that she was powerless to intervene against her husband, a member of the Islamic State, who had decided to punish the girl by chaining her in the courtyard of the couple’s home in Fallujah.
On the day of the girl’s death in August, the husband forced the child outside, restrained her and left her without water or protection from the searing heat.
The child died afterward, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence, but the court found the woman had only limited possibilities to intervene on behalf of the child and her mother and only realized too late that the girl could die.
Jennifer W. was arrested in 2018, initially only on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization abroad, when she was trying to return to Iraq from Germany. While riding in a car, she told the driver who offered to take her as far as Turkey about her life in the Islamic State, not realizing that he worked for German intelligence officials and was bugged.
She told the driver about leaving her home in northwestern Germany in August 2014 and making her way through Turkey and Syria to Iraq. Once she arrived, prosecutors said, she joined the Islamic State and swiftly rose through the ranks, becoming a member of the Hisbah, the morality police, patrolling the parks of Fallujah and Mosul.
The man whom Jennifer W. married under Islamic law in Iraq in 2015 faces similar charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and crimes against humanity in connection with the Yazidis’ enslavement and the girl’s death. Identified only as Taha Al J., his trial in Frankfurt began last year.