(New York, N.Y.) — Last week, prosecutors in the Netherlands announced Hasna Aarab, having been accused of crimes against humanity for enslaving a Yazidi woman in 2015 while a member of ISIS, will face trial along with 11 other women for crimes related to their membership in ISIS. Aarab, who was repatriated from Syria, will be the first defendant in a Dutch court facing charges of crimes against humanity against the Yazidi religious minority group.
ISIS’s assault on the Yazidi population in Iraq’s northern Sinjar province reportedly resulted in the deaths of 5,000 Yazidi men. Another 7,000 women and children were taken captive, and 550,000 Yazidis were displaced. Captured Yazidi men and boys were forcibly converted to Islam and enslaved for labor, while women and girls were sold into sex slavery.
Until last year, the Netherlands had refused to repatriate adult women from Syria, and public prosecutors had charged alleged female ISIS affiliates with terrorist offences in absentia as the women were not able to attend their trial. In 2022, however, the Netherlands repatriated 16 adult women as well as 39 children after a court ruled the Dutch Prosecutor's Office would lose its right to prosecute the women if they were not returned to the Netherlands. Dutch officials chose repatriation so prosecutors could continue their investigations.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s resource The Netherlands: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.
In December, CEP published a policy paper, Recent Legal and Political Developments in the Repatriation of European Nationals from Northeastern Syria, highlighting the positive trend of repatriations of European nationals. Repatriations protect citizens from torture and continued inhumane and degrading treatment, demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law and due process, and allow for potential prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society.
“It is a very good sign that the Netherlands are planning to prosecute female returnees not only for their ISIS membership but also their role in crimes against the Yazidi community,” said CEP senior research analyst Sofia Koller, an author of the above policy paper and another on the Prosecution of German Women Returning from Syria and Iraq. “It is important to ensure accountability for ISIS’s victims.”
The Netherlands, however, lags behind its European partners in prosecutions. In Germany, for example, at least 32 of the more than 95 adult German women that have returned have been convicted by a German court as of February 2023, six of which were convicted of crimes against humanity stemming from the severe abuse of members of the Yazidi community. Prosecutors in those cases employed “extraordinary testimonies from Yazidi survivors,” Koller observed, which might support efforts in the Netherlands to secure convictions.
“It is important for the Dutch to continue strengthening cooperation with the Yazidi communities directly and via non-governmental organizations to locate victims and improve the probability that their testimonies can be used in court,” Koller said. “Courts must ensure adequate conditions of legal proceedings in which members of the Yazidi community might want to participate, for example, by providing at interpretation and translation of judgements in relevant languages, such as Kurmanji. It is also crucial to provide culturally sensitive counseling and psychosocial support of victims of core international crimes and sexualized violence during all stages of such investigations, but especially right before, during, and after giving testimony.”
To read CEP’s resource ISIS, please click here.