On February 14 and 15, 2023, a Rotterdam court, the District Court of The Hague, held the first pro forma hearings against twelve women that the Dutch government brought back from a prison camp in Syria in November 2022. The women were arrested after arrival on suspicion of terrorist crimes, as suspected members of Daesh, a terrorist organization that is accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Iraq and Syria. As announced by the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, one of the women is also suspected of slavery as a crime against humanity. The woman is said to have used a Yazidi woman as a slave in Syria in 2015. It is the first time that someone in the Netherlands has been charged with a crime against the Yazidis and for crimes against humanity.
Daesh, a non-state actor and a terror organization with over 40,000 foreign fighters in its peak time, brought about crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even genocide, by way of murder, enslavement, deportation and forcible transfer of populations, imprisonment, torture, abduction of women and children, exploitation, abuse, rape, sexual violence – unabated. Daesh specifically targeted religious minorities, Yazidis and Christians, for destruction in an attempt to annihilate religious pluralism and establish a purely Islamic region, in accordance with its perverted interpretation of what this would involve. Eight years after the attack on Sinjar, and as over 2,700 Yazidi women and children are still missing, justice and accountability for the crimes of Daesh cannot be neglected.
Over the years, the Netherlands has taken important steps to address the crimes committed by Daesh. Among others, the Dutch government was one of the only three governments in the world that formally recognized the atrocities by Daesh as genocide, following the US and the Canadian recognitions (in addition to over a dozen of parliaments).
In September 2019, the Dutch justice minister confirmed that it declined to repatriate 10 women Daesh suspects and their children concerned about the “direct risks to the national security of the Netherlands.” As Pieter Omtzigt, Special Rapporteur on Bringing Daesh to justice, commented, “governments that repatriate their nationals have to reckon with political consequences, as domestic populations focus on the potential security threats, whether immediately, for those returnees who cannot be detained or prosecuted, or in future, once any prison sentences have been served.” At the same time, Dutch courts have focused on justice and accountability of those in the country or returned.
Among others, on January 26, 2021, the Court of Appeal of the Hague sentenced a Dutch national to seven years imprisonment for participation in a terrorist organization and war crime of outrage upon personal dignity. On June 29, 2021, the District Court of the Hague convicted a Dutch woman to six years imprisonment for membership in a terrorist organization, participating in an organization that has the purpose to commit war crimes and sharing videos showing Daesh prisoners being burned alive and therefore affecting the personal dignity of the deceased. Pieter Omtzigt praised the step saying that “The court considered for the first time that Daesh is not only a terrorist organization but also a criminal organization with the purpose to commit war crimes based on its inhumane and cruel treatment of persons who do not adhere to their beliefs.”
The new trial for slavery as a crime against humanity is yet another step to ensure justice and accountability. However, the Netherlands is yet to see trials of Daesh members for their involvement in the genocide.
The new wave of trials of Daesh members is a clear sign that justice and accountability for the Daesh atrocities are not forgotten and are as important as before. As some steps are being taken, it is crucial to ensure that the current gaps in responses are addressed. The response to the atrocities now will define the future of the targeted communities. This is as impunity will only beget further crimes.