(CN) — A German woman who joined the Islamic State group was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Munich court on Monday for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi girl she and her husband kept as a slave in Iraq die of thirst after she was chained in the scorching desert sun for wetting a mattress.
The conviction is considered the first verdict against someone involved in a 2014 genocide against the Yazidi people by the Islamic State group. The landmark case is part of a wider legal push in Germany to prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity, including war crimes in Syria. German courts have become among the most active in going after war crimes and applying a concept known as universal jurisdiction.
Jennifer Wenisch, 30, was convicted by the Munich Higher Regional Court of being a member of the Islamic State group, aiding and abetting attempted murder, attempted war crimes, and committing a crime against humanity.
In 2014, Islamic State group fighters carried out a series of atrocities against Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking minority whose religion incorporates Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim elements and differs from other religions by its prayer rituals, a belief in reincarnation and the central role of the Peacock Angel, Tawusi Malek, a figure worshipped as the messenger to the Yazidi god.
The Yazidis have suffered persecution for centuries and have long sought shelter in the Sinjar mountains of northern Iraq. United Nations investigators have declared what happened against Yazidis in 2014 genocide.
An unknown number of Yazidis were killed in the mass atrocities though investigators believe more than 5,000 were slaughtered. About 7,000 Yazidi women and girls were seized by Islamic State fighters and sold as slaves, with most of them ending up in sexual slavery in Iraq and eastern Syria.
About 2,763 Yazidi women and children are believed to still be missing. Several governments, including the United States, recently pledged to step up efforts to find those missing. Meanwhile, about 200,000 Yazidis remain displaced, according to Nadia's Initiative, a group helping Yazidis rebuild in their ancestral homelands in the Sinjar mountains.
Wenisch, a native of north German town of Lohne, joined the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014 and married Taha al-Jumailly, a fighter for the group. Al-Jumailly is on trial in Frankfurt on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, murder, human trafficking and membership in a terrorist organization.
The trial against Wenisch focused on a 5-year-old girl and her mother whom Wenisch and al-Jumailly kept as house slaves between May and mid-August 2015. The dead girl's mother took the stand at Wenisch's trial for about 11 days, according to news reports, describing how Al-Jumailly allegedly repeatedly beat the mother and child, prohibited them from practicing their religion and forced them to convert to Islam.
Wenisch was accused of not doing anything to stop her husband's abuse. Prosecutors presented evidence that al-Jumailly chained the girl to a railing in the couple's Fallujah home's courtyard one afternoon in August 2015 during the hottest part of the day. Al-Jumailly allegedly was upset that the girl had wet a mattress. She subsequently died of thirst.
Authorities arrested Wenisch in 2018 after she returned to Germany and revealed what she had done in Iraq to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamic State supporter. He was acting as a driver helping her to get to Syria.
When she was put on trial in 2019, Wenisch was found guilty of not doing anything to save the child even though she could see the girl was at risk of dying. Because the court found that her ability to save the child was restrained by her husband, federal prosecutors requested that the court not give her a life sentence.
Wenisch's defense lawyer argued that she was being unfairly tried for the crimes of the Islamic State group as a whole. She also said there was no proof that the girl had actually died.
Previously, Wenisch claimed that she was being “made an example of for everything that has happened under IS,” the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported.
The Free Yazidi Foundation, a Yazidi humanitarian group, hailed the conviction as historic but said it was “far less than what the Yazidi community hoped for and deserves.”
“Participation in genocide and the murder of a child warrants more than a 10-year sentence,” the group said in a statement.
“The global pursuit of justice for Yazidis is painfully slow.”
The Free Yazidi Foundation said women who joined the Islamic State group should not be seen as simply brides of jihadist fighters without power who did not participate in the genocide. It pointed out that Wenisch took part in so-called “morality patrols” in Mosul and Fallujah where members of the Islamic State enforced the group's severe dress codes.
“Yazidi women have often said that female ISIS members were among the most brutal,” the group said, using an abbreviation for a name the Islamic State group has not used since 2014. Wenisch “was not a bystander, or a victim, but an active participant in some of the worst crimes seen in modern history,” the Yazidi group said.
This is not the first person to be convicted in Germany for crimes against Yazidis. In July, a court in Hamburg sentenced Omaima Abdi, the wife of an Islamic State jihadist, for using Yazidi slave women to clean her home. She had previously been convicted of being an Islamic State member.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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