In a landmark verdict, a former member of the Islamic State group has been found guilty of genocide by a German court over the death of a five-year-old Yazidi girl he had bought as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court also convicted Taha Al-J of crimes against humanity, war crimes and bodily harm resulting in death. The 29-year-old was sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to pay the girl’s mother €50,000 (£42,600).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by IS of the Yazidi religious minority.
The court said judges concluded that Al-J – whose last name was not released because of privacy laws – acted with the intention of eradicating Yazidis, thereby constituting genocide.
Lawyers for the defendant had denied the allegations made against their client, who briefly fainted as the verdict was read out on Tuesday.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl – because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told the Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by IS. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the IS assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed”. Of the thousands captured by IS, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam – and often executed in any case – and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J bought a Yazidi woman and her five-year-old daughter, Reda, as slaves at an IS base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules”, while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50C (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the child had wet the bed.
Al-J was arrested in Greece two years ago and extradited to Germany.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel peace prize laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by IS, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community”.
“Germany is not only raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”