Belgium and the Netherlands have signed on to an EU-based joint investigation team (JIT) that focuses on crimes committed against the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria.
The JIT, backed by the EU’s judicial coordination body Eurojust, was initially formed between Sweden and France in 2021 to investigate actions by foreign terrorist fighters in the region, most of them under the Islamic State (ISIS). It aims to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The team helped identify a Swedish citizen with a European arrest warrant against him for crimes against humanity in Syria, and the identification of a Yazidi victim led to charges of genocide being added to an ongoing case against a jihadist couple who hold French citizenship.
Further cooperation led to Belgian authorities aiding cases in France by providing witness and victim testimony.
In the Netherlands, a Dutch citizen was identified as having been involved in various crimes following an investigation by the team. The woman will face charges of terrorism and slavery.
The Eurojust aims to streamline the procedures and resolve conflicts of jurisdiction, as well as facilitate the sharing of experience and know-how in the prosecution of international crimes.
Yazidis faced extensive attacks by ISIS that have been recognised as genocide in several countries, during the jihadist group’s occupation of various parts of Syria and Iraq until their defeat by Kurdish-led forces in 2019. Notably, the August 2014 attack on their ancestral lands Sinjar in Iraq led to the death of thousands of Yazidi men and the enslavement of Yazidi women within days.
Nadia Murad, a survivor of enslavement that followed the 2014 ISIS attacks in Kocho, Iraq, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 based on her work to raise awareness for the plight of Yazidi women and children.
Currently, there are some 13,000 ISIS members, who are neither Iraqi nor Syrian nationals, held in northeast Syrian prison camps under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Both military and civilian authorities in the region have been calling on western countries to repatriate their citizens and put them on trial, however, the few cases that have started years after the territorial defeat of the jihadist group have been on former fighters who had already returned to their country of citizenship.
Out of the thousands of ISIS members and their families, 17 women and children were repatriated to Australia last year, according to an Al Jazeera report. Eight others had been repatriated in 2019.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) recently announced a decision to put the foreign ISIS fighters under its supervision on trial in the local People’s Courts, which had previously only prosecuted local citizens.
Last year, a US delegation visited the area to discuss options, and US Central Command General Michael Kurilla said the camps represented “a real threat to the region” as ISIS considered them grounds for recruitment.
“There is no military solution to the threat posed by the al-Hol camp. I am certain of that. The most durable solution is for countries of origin to repatriate, rehabilitate, and reintegrate their citizens,” Kurilla said.