Many victims of IS barbarism  – and thus also potential witnesses – now live in Germany. Since 2015, more than 85,000 Yazidis from Iraq and Syria have sought protection in Germany. Of particular importance for the criminal investigations are the approximately 1,000 Yazidi women and children who have been brought to Germany since early 2015 under a special humanitarian programme run by the Baden-Württemberg state government. One of them is 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad.

From survivor to witness

Now 26, she has testified extensively to German investigators and encouraged other women to do the same. The investigators have not released the contents of the interrogations, but a glimpse of the endless torments to which women like Murad were subjected was revealed in a June 2016 UN report that included the German investigations.

Victim turned Yazidi activist Nadia Murad (photo: Imago/CTK Photo)
"Death is harmless in comparison to the hell that we all had to endure": since escaping the clutches of Islamic State, Nadia Murad has worked tirelessly to bring the terrorist group to justice. In 2018 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict"

After being taken captive by IS, the women were traded for amounts between $200 and $1,500 and often sold several times over at slave markets and through online auctions. Rape and beatings were the order of the day. Even little girls were raped regularly. In order to keep the enslaved mothers docile, their children were abused and tortured. One witness reported that an IS fighter killed several of her children as a punishment for her trying to escape. Often, the IS fighters' wives participated in the abuses. Some German IS followers belonged to the slaveholders as well.

More than 100 women have already testified for the War Crimes Unit, with about 100 more yet to do so. Zorn emphasises that the Yazidi women are interviewed exclusively by female investigators, in a time-consuming process that encourages trust. Often an entire week is scheduled for a witness to arrive, build up a rapport with the investigators, testify and depart.

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Testifying means that women have to discuss in very intimate detail the torments they suffered. They have often had bad experiences with the police in their home countries, so the German investigators try to convey a sense of security and to create an atmosphere for conversation that is as pleasant as possible. In the interrogation room, a tablecloth is laid out or a bouquet of flowers set up. The witnesses may also bring friends, relatives and caregivers.

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