A German woman and former member of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) group was given on Monday a 10-year prison sentence by a Munich court for letting a Yazidi girl enslaved in Iraq die of thirst.
The defendant was "found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity through enslavement, attempted murder and aiding and abetting the war crime of attempted murder by omission, and membership in a foreign terrorist organisation," according to a statement released by the plaintiffs' lawyers.
The landmark case was one of the first trials in the world to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority persecuted and enslaved by jihadists in Iraq and in Syria.
An estimated 10,000 Yazidi people were killed in northern Iraq in the mass atrocities. About 7,000 Yazidi women and girls, some as young as nine, were enslaved and forcibly transferred to locations in Iraq and eastern Syria.
“This conviction will mean a lot to ISIS survivors especially the ones who have shared their statements with us in the hope that they will see justice one day. It is also very encouraging for our organisation that has been tirelessly collecting evidence since the first months of the Yazidi genocide," said Natia Navrouzov, Legal Advocacy Director at global Yazidi NGO Yazda.
Who's the woman convicted on Monday?
Jennifer Wenisch, 30, accused of war crimes and murder, could have been given life imprisonment.
A convert, she travelled to Syria in 2014 to join IS and later married Iraqi national Taha al-Jumailly.
She was recruited in 2015 by IS morality police, patrolling the streets of Fallujah and Mosul to ensure respect for the jihadist group's dress code and public behaviour.
German prosecutors say Wenisch and her IS husband "purchased" a Yazidi woman and her 5-year old child, Rania, as household "slaves" in Mosul in 2015.
Rania and her mother were held captive for about six weeks and "subjected to almost daily beatings which the defendant often instigated," the plaintiffs' lawyers said in a statement.
"The defendant and her husband forced the Yazidi mother to do housework and both she and her daughter were forced to pray even though the couple knew that the captives were Yazidis," the lawyers went on.
What were the circumstances of Rania's death?
"After the girl fell ill and wet her mattress, the husband of the accused chained her up outside as punishment and let the child die an agonising death of thirst in the scorching heat," prosecutors said.
Wenisch's husband is also facing a separate trial in Frankfurt with a verdict due in late November.
Wenisch said she was "afraid" that her husband would "push her or lock her up" if she intervened to save the girl.
The girl's mother, Nora T., continued to be held captive by the couple after her daughter died. She testified at the trial of the tortures inflicted on her child.
But the defence has questioned her testimony and claimed there was no proof that the girl, who was taken to hospital after the incident, actually died.
German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that Wenisch claimed she was being "made an example of for everything that has happened under IS."
Reacting to the verdict on Monday, the child’s mother said: “It was very difficult for me to hear the verdict today. All the memories came flooding back. I am glad that after six years the German court determined that the defendant is responsible for my daughter’s death, but no sentence in the world will bring her back”.
How was Wenisch arrested?
Wenisch was arrested by Turkish security services in January 2016 in Ankara and then extradited to Germany.
But she was not taken into custody until June 2018, when she got arrested while trying to reach the territories that IS still controlled in Syria with her two-year-old daughter
During the journey, she told her driver about her life in Iraq. The latter was actually an FBI informant who drove her in a car equipped with microphones. The prosecution used these tapes to indict her.
Are there any precedents?
Germany has prosecuted several German and foreign nationals for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed abroad. Courts used the principle of universal jurisdiction which allows crimes to be prosecuted even if they were carried out in a foreign country.
Several women have appeared in the dock.
In November 2020, a German woman identified as Nurten J. was charged with crimes against humanity allegedly committed while she was living in Syria as a member of IS.
In October 2020, the German-Tunisian wife of a rapper-turned-jihadist was convicted to three-and-a-half years in prison for her role in the enslavement of a Yazidi girl in Syria.
"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,” said victim's counsel Amal Clooney after Monday's verdict.