Belgium and Netherlands sign up to joint investigation team targeting crimes against Yezidi victims in Syria and Iraq

26 June 2023|PRESS RELEASE

sv fr be nl flags, Eurojust logoThe joint investigation team (JIT) to assist proceedings in cases involving core international crimes committed by foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) against the Yezidi population in Syria and Iraq has been extended. A JIT agreement was initially signed between Sweden and France in October 2021, supported by Eurojust, and has been extended first to judicial and law enforcement authorities from Belgium and recently those from the Netherlands. The cooperation via the JIT is already producing initial results in all participating countries.

map magnifying glass

The JIT aims at identifying and potentially prosecuting FTFs who targeted the Yezidi minority during the armed conflict in Syria and Iraq. Another goal of the cooperation is to identify victims and witnesses; for instance, to avoid multiple interviews of the same persons, who have lived through dire circumstances. The proceedings of the JIT partners focus on core international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Within the short timeframe of the coordinated efforts, several suspects and victims relevant to national investigations have already been identified.

One example is that of a Swedish citizen for whom a European Arrest Warrant was issued on the suspicion of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in Syria, a decision issued by the Stockholm District Court in March 2023.

In France, a Yezidi victim of a French jihadist couple, already prosecuted under terrorism offences, could be identified. Charges of genocide and crimes against humanity were added to an existing case.

In Belgium, witnesses and victims of Belgian FTFs have been identified and interviewed thanks to the exchange of information, and links with investigations in France have been established.

Another example is that of a suspect who was taken into custody in the Netherlands in November 2022. Several statements from Yezidi survivors, recorded by the Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) and analysed in the context of the JIT, pointed to the involvement of a Dutch female returnee in crimes against Yezidis.

After receiving these statements from UNITAD, and based on their own legal analysis, the Dutch authorities arrested the suspect, who will now be prosecuted in the Netherlands for terrorist offences and slavery as a crime against humanity against a Yezidi woman. This example shows the importance of the JIT for Dutch accountability efforts for Yezidi victims, even prior to joining the team.

These results were able to materialise quickly due to the coordinated efforts via the JIT and their partners, with the active support of Eurojust. The Agency, for instance, helped in setting up the JIT and organised coordination meetings. Furthermore, Eurojust can help to determine possible conflicts of jurisdiction. This helps to avoid breaching the so-called ne bis in idem principle, which means no multiple legal actions can be taken against perpetrators for the same offence. The Genocide Network Secretariat, hosted by the Agency, can also support by sharing knowledge, expertise and best practices gathered from its contact points specialised in investigations and prosecutions of core international crimes.

Besides Eurojust, the Genocide Network Secretariat and UNITAD, the JIT is supported by IIIM (the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic) and Europol. Canada and Germany are also cooperating and supporting the JIT.