In 2014, the Islamic State terrorist group took over a region in northern Iraq that was home to the small Yazidi religious group, massacring thousands of Yazidi men and enslaving an estimated 7,000 women and children.
According to German prosecutors, Wenisch and her husband “purchased” the child and her mother as household “slaves” when they lived in the Islamic State-occupied Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2015. After the child became ill and wet her mattress, Wenisch’s husband chained her outside their home as punishment and let the child die of thirst in the desert heat. The child’s mother, who was forced to witness her death, was the trial’s main witness, testifying for over 11 days.
The prosecutor had recommended that Wenisch be imprisoned for life. However, the court found that the accused had only a limited ability to end the enslavement of the woman and her child. Wenisch’s husband, Taha al-Jumailly, is on trial in Frankfurt.
The case is being tried in Germany because its legal system incorporates parts of the principle of universal jurisdiction. Under this legal principle, some crimes — such as genocide and war crimes — are so grave that the normal territorial restraints on prosecutions do not apply.
As part of what is known as “structural investigations,” German authorities have been investigating war crimes against the Yazidi minority in Iraq and Syria for years. Two other trials involving the enslavement of Yazidi women and children are ongoing in Hamburg and Düsseldorf.
In response to a lawmaker’s request last year, the government confirmed that 22 German nationals who “have a connection to ISIS or another terrorist organization” — 19 children and three women — have returned to Germany with help of the German authorities.
Over a hundred German citizens who left the country to join the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, or other terrorist organizations remain in prison camps in Syria and Iraq. They have petitioned the German courts for permission to return.