Five years after the Islamic State (IS) committed a genocide against the Yazidi people, Germany has announced its commitment to seek justice for the victims. The Yazidi Genocide was committed on 3 August 2014 in the Nineveh province of Iraq. Nearly 10,000 people, mainly young men and boys over 12 were murdered, and approximately 7,000 Yazidi women and children were abducted by IS.
Using the German Code of Crime Against International Law, Germany will be able to prosecute crimes despite them not being committed within Germany or by Germans. Consequently, the Central Office for Combating War Crimes under the International Criminal Law has begun investigations to prosecute IS militants.
International Criminal Lawyer, Lars Berster states that the objective of the perpetrators is what the decisive factor will be. Talking to Deutsche Welle, he stated that “they must aim to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part, and IS’ intention to exterminate was very visible.” German-Yazidi journalist Düzen Tekkal said that “we do not need to eat or drink. To recover, we need justice.”
Trying to indict IS militants has been an arduous process due to the amount of legal processes involved. Calls have been made for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to create a tribunal to investigate the wide range of atrocities IS has inflicted upon populations of people. However, the block in this route is that the ICC cannot bring charges because it does not have jurisdiction over the territory on which the crimes were committed. Furthermore, neither Iraq nor Syria have signed the ICC’s Rome Statute. This Statute gives authority to the UN Security Council to refer a matter to the ICC in cases where a state is not party to the Court. However, there is an alternative and one which numerous countries are pursuing is to use ‘universal jurisdiction.’ This allows for states to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person, such as an IS militant who may be passing through or residing in a state’s territory. States such as Austria, Finland, France and Sweden are already utilizing this principle. However, many more need to join if there is to be some form of justice against IS.
Even the process of investigating genocide is both intense and personal as it requires testimony from the victims. In many cases this means that women must speak in explicit detail of their experiences which are often related to crimes of a sexual nature. This is very much the case for many victims of IS since sexual crimes of rape and abuse are rampant. Many of these women were sold, abused and raped and forced to marry their assailant or sold back into slavery to undergo the same chain of abuse. According to one of the prosecutors on the case reported by Deutsche Welle the massive and systematic use of sexual violence by IS has been unparalleled. This has led to many women to black out or faint during interviews. Consequently, there is very much a need for support not only within the judicial system but also in the community.
Yazidi religious leaders in April first declared that they would embrace survivors of militant attacks. This was made to help erase the social stigma often associated with rape. However, due to backlash from conservative community members, the spiritual council later retracted the statement saying its decision had been distorted. The council instead affirmed that children born to IS fathers would not be accepted back into the community. This adds more difficulty and pressure on women who have already experienced a great deal of trauma, who then have to give up their children to orphanages. What is instead required is a wider acceptance and understanding of war crimes and the ways in which they affect the survivors, especially for women who, in such cases, have a permanent reminder of the experience left in the form of their children.
War does not simply end due to one side being defeated. Casualties continue as the victims try to resettle and start afresh. This is made even more difficult when the aggressors can simply walk away without any form of accountability. Similarly, the treatment of victims needs to be improved. Spiritual communities should lead the way in understanding that the effects of genocide and war often lead to difficult circumstances for women. Instead of making an already harrowing process more traumatic, these communities should welcome these survivors and provide support as they enter into the necessary legal processes in the hopes of finding justice.