Yazidi genocide: landmark guilty verdict for IS jihadi could transform how atrocities are brought to justice
Content warning: genocide and war crimes.
By Chamu Kuppuswamy, Senior Lecturer and Interdisciplinary Researcher in Law, University of Hertfordshire. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
The genocide verdict brought recently by a German court against an Iraqi member of Islamic State for crimes including the murder of a five-year-old Yazidi girl is a landmark decision which will clear the way for similar prosecutions. That this verdict was even possible was thanks to a detailed (and remarkably speedy) report in 2016 which established that violence against the Yazidi community in northwest Iraq had amounted to genocide.
Taha al-Jumailly was sentenced to life imprisonment after the court heard that the jihadist enslaved the five-year-old in 2015, chaining her up and leaving her to die of thirst.
The concept of international crimes is relatively new, stemming from the 1998 Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute). These are understood as “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole”. At the top of this list is the crime of genocide. This is defined, in Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as: “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
The development of international criminal law is deeply rooted in the atrocities committed during the second world war in Europe and Asia, brought to light at the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals. These two pioneering tribunals established the individual criminal responsibility of heads of state and military leaders for gross violations of human rights. This was rapidly endorsed by the 1946 resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, and followed by the Genocide Convention in 1948.
The significance of these developments is that international law seldom holds individuals responsible for violating it. It has only done so previously in instances of piracy and slave-trading. Without this structural tool of individual responsibility for a heinous crime, it would not be possible to bring perpetrators to justice and deter such behaviour in the future.
Genocide has come to be known as the “crime of crimes”, but it is also the most difficult to prove because it does not only require intent, but specific intent to destroy an identifiable group of people.
Establishing genocide as a crime
The guilty verdict against al-Jumailly was only possible because of the work done prior to the case which established the occurrence of genocide in relation to the crime committed by this individual: the Independent International Commission of Inquiry reported to the Human Rights Council in 2016 that genocide was being carried out against the Yazidi community by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (IS).
Rare cases of justice
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