German Court Convicts Ex-IS Member of Murder, Role in Yazidi Genocide

A German court Tuesday convicted a former Islamic State member of the 2015 murder of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl.

Taha al-Jumailly, an Iraqi national, was also sentenced to serve life in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was ordered to pay the victim’s mother, who survived captivity, $57,000.

It is the first genocide verdict against an Islamic State member.

“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”

German prosecutors said al-Jumailly bought the mother and child as slaves in Syria in 2015. He then took them to Fallujah in Iraq where he beat them and didn’t give them enough food.  

In 2015, al-Jumailly chained the girl to window bars in a room where the temperature reached 50 degrees Celsius. The girl died.

In 2019, al-Jumailly was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany, where authorities took the case using the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Al-Jumailly’s German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for her involvement in the case. She was a witness for the prosecution in al-Jumailly’s trial.

In 2014, IS rampaged through the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq. In many cases, it forced young women into sex slavery. Many in the Yazidi community, which numbers more than half-a-million, were displaced.

In 2016, a U.N. commission declared the IS treatment of the Yazidis inside Syria as a genocide.

“We can only hope that [this case] will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Islamic State group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

As Syrian Rebels Face Defeat, Calls Grow for Turkey to Restore Ties with Assad

With Syrian rebels facing defeat, Turkey – one of the rebels’ main backers – is now facing growing calls to restore diplomatic relations with Damascus. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

Blinken in Latvia for NATO Security Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Latvia Tuesday for talks with the country’s leaders and a NATO ministerial meeting as the alliance expresses concern about Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine.

Blinken’s schedule in Riga includes sessions with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. He is also due to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the ministerial talks later in the day.

Levits told reporters after his own talks with Stoltenberg on Monday that Russia’s military presence represents direct pressure on Ukraine, and that NATO “will remain in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

A main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

New Twitter CEO Steps From Behind the Scenes to High Profile 

Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile and politically volatile jobs. 

But his prior lack of name recognition, coupled with a solid technical background, appears to be what some big company backers were looking for to lead Twitter out of its current morass. 

A 37-year-old immigrant from India, Agrawal comes from outside the ranks of celebrity CEOs, which include the man he’s replacing, Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Those brand-name company founders and leaders have often been in the news — and on Twitter — for exploits beyond the day-to-day running of their companies.

Having served as Twitter’s chief technology officer for the past four years, Agrawal’s appointment was seen by Wall Street as a choice of someone who will focus on ushering Twitter into what’s widely seen as the internet’s next era — the metaverse. 

Agrawal is a “‘safe’ pick who should be looked upon as favorably by investors,” wrote CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino, who noted that Twitter shareholder Elliott Management Corp. had pressured Dorsey to step down. 

Elliott released a statement Monday saying Agrawal and new board chairman Bret Taylor were the “right leaders for Twitter at this pivotal moment for the company.” Taylor is president and chief operating officer of the business software company Salesforce. 

Agrawal joins a growing cadre of Indian American CEOs of large tech companies, including Sundar Pichai of Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and IBM’s Arvind Krishna. 

He joined San Francisco-based Twitter in 2011, when it had just 1,000 employees, and has been its chief technical officer since 2017. At the end of last year, the company had a workforce of 5,500. 

Agrawal previously worked at Microsoft, Yahoo and AT&T in research roles. At Twitter, he’s worked on machine learning, revenue and consumer engineering and helping with audience growth. He studied at Stanford and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. 

While Twitter has high-profile users like politicians and celebrities and is a favorite of journalists, its user base lags far behind old rivals like Facebook and YouTube and newer ones like TikTok. It has just over 200 million daily active users, a common industry metric.

As CEO, Agrawal will have to step beyond the technical details and deal with the social and political issues Twitter and social media are struggling with. Those include misinformation, abuse and effects on mental health. 

Agrawal got a fast introduction to life as CEO of a high-profile company that’s one of the central platforms for political speech online. Conservatives quickly unearthed a tweet he sent in 2010 that read “If they are not gonna make a distinction between muslims and extremists, then why should I distinguish between white people and racists.”

As some Twitter users pointed out, the 11-year-old tweet was quoting a segment on “The Daily Show,” which was referencing the firing of Juan Williams, who made a comment about being nervous about Muslims on an airplane.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a message for comment on the tweet. 

Belarus Migrant Crisis Divides Polish Society

Thousands of migrants continue to wait in Belarus to enter the European Union through Poland, a crisis in the central European country that has sharply divided its society between those who want to assist migrants and those who refuse to open their borders. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from Ricardo Marquina in Warsaw.

Camera: Ricardo Marquina

Turkey’s Economic Turmoil Threatens to Stoke Refugee Tensions

Last week’s 10% drop in the value of the Turkish currency plunged it to historic lows, threatening an economic crisis. The Turkish lira has dropped 45 percent this year, prompting concerns that economic turmoil could further raise tensions over the presence of millions of refugees. For VOA, Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

West Struggles to Counter Secessionist Threat in Bosnia

Western analysts say Bosnia-Herzegovina is facing its greatest crisis since the Dayton Accords ended a war there in 1995, with many suspecting Russian and Chinese hands in what could be the unraveling of the pact that has provided 25 years of uneasy peace. 

The U.S.-brokered accords divided the Balkan country into a Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and a region known as the Federation, dominated by Bosniaks and Croats. All three ethnic groups are represented in a tripartite presidency.  

But Milorad Dodik, the Serb representative in the presidency, has in recent weeks started the process of withdrawal from state-level institutions and is threatening outright secession by Republika Srpska.   

Such moves, including the plan for unilateral transfer to Republika Srpska of such functions as taxation and military forces, are a clear violation of the Dayton Accords in the eyes of several current and former diplomats, U.S. officials and analysts interviewed by VOA. Many fear the actions not only threaten to undo many post-war achievements, but also create the potential for new conflicts and a partition of the country.  

“Bosnia-Herzegovina as a country has been able to sort of muddle through from one crisis to the next and still remain at least a semi-functional democracy. My concern is that Dodik is simply pushing things too far this time,” said Bruce Berton, a U.S. diplomat who headed the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 2015 and 2019. 

Berton also was deputy chief at the Office of the High Representative (OHR), an international entity established to oversee the implementation of the Dayton Accords.  

While Dodik claims he is reclaiming functions taken from Republika Srpska without its consent, many were approved by the state parliament with the participation of Republika Srpska parties.  

“It seems a bit schizophrenic behavior,” said Paul McCarthy, Europe division director at the International Republican Institute, who pointed out that Dodik’s own party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) supported some of those decisions.   

While there is some resistance to Dodik’s moves by opposition parties in Republika Srpska, McCarthy said he believes the latest moves have been encouraged from Moscow.

“This is a low-cost way for Russia to sow dissension and to undermine the West, the EU and Washington’s position in the Western Balkans,” he said.

Several VOA interviewees said China and Serbia also stand to benefit from the crisis and worry that even Hungary – an EU member – is backing Dodik.  

Toby Vogel, a senior associate of the Democratization Policy Council, a Berlin think tank, sees the events in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the context of deteriorating relations between NATO and Russia and other regional escalations between Serbia and Kosovo and in Montenegro.  

“I have a hard time believing that these are just sort of a spontaneous manifestation of local grievances, Vogel said.  

Daniel Serwer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, warns about the “Serbian World” idea, floated recently by Serbian politicians. For Serwer, that is just a different name for the nationalistic concept of a “Greater Serbia,” in which all territories where Serbs live would become a single country. 

“That means the destruction of several states in the Balkans, it means war, it means death, it means refugees. And Western states shouldn’t want that,” he said.

Cooperation of China, Russia  

In July, the U.N. Security Council rejected a resolution put forward by Russia and China to close the OHR. The two countries claimed that the appointment of German politician Christian Schmidt as a High Representative was not valid as it was not confirmed by the Security Council.   

Schmidt was appointed in May by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), an international body that provides the High Representative with political guidance. Only Russia opposed the decision. The Security Council discussed the matter but did not vote to confirm Schmidt after the United States and other countries maintained that was not necessary.  

Now Moscow, like Dodik, refuses to recognize Schmidt as the High Representative.   

Analysts had feared that Russia and China, in retaliation, might veto the renewal of the international military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, known as EUFOR, which has helped to maintain the peace there. The Security Council did in fact approve the European Military Force (EUFOR) mandate on November 3, but only after other countries caved in to a demand by Russia and China that Schmidt not present an expected report on Bosnia-Herzegovina during that session.  

In that report, Schmidt had written that Bosnia-Herzegovina “faces the greatest existential threat of the postwar period” and that Republika Srpska authorities, led by Dodik, “endanger not only the peace and stability of the country and the region, but – if unanswered by the international community – could lead to the undoing of the [Dayton] Agreement itself.”  

Many Western analysts were outraged at what they saw as a sign of weakness by the West. 

“It is absolutely appalling that [Schmidt] was not permitted to speak. It damages the OHR,” said Tanya Domi, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, who used to work for the OSCE mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  

Berton, the former deputy High Representative, said China and Russia have different goals in seeking to weaken the Dayton Accords. For China, he said, Bosnia-Herzegovina is part of its larger plan to expand its influence in the world, primarily through economic efforts such as its “Belt and Road Initiative.”

Russia, he said, “has been a sort of malign influence in the country and in the region. I think they want to poke a sharp stick into the eyes of the West, especially as Bosnia-Herzegovina and other countries in the region move closer to the EU and to NATO.”  

What will US, EU do?  

Most of the VOA interviewees agreed that a greater U.S. involvement on Western Balkans issues is key to decreasing tensions, especially since EU enlargement – once a primary motivation for keeping peace and implementing reforms — has pretty much ground to a halt.    

Several U.S. diplomats have recently visited Bosnia-Herzegovina, including Gabriel Escobar, the State Department’s special representative for the Western Balkans, and Derek Chollet, the department’s senior policy adviser. They confirmed U.S. support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and criticized Dodik’s unilateral actions.  

Still, some analysts fear the U.S. is too focused on electoral and economic reforms while there is a much greater threat to Bosnia-Herzegovina.  

Domi, the Columbia University professor, said she doesn’t think the West is taking Dodik’s actions seriously: “What I’m deeply troubled by is that everybody just seems to think, ‘Oh well, we’ll turn these words around and we’re going to reverse the situation.’ And it’s clear that Mr. Dodik is doubling down.” 

Vogel said destructive behavior has been allowed for some time.  

“Neither the U.S. nor the EU have been pushing back against increasingly escalating attacks on the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina over the last several years,” he said. 

Escobar repeatedly said the U.S. plans to “aggressively use” sanctions against Bosnian politicians, but no concrete actions have yet been taken. In 2017, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Dodik for obstructing the Dayton Accords, but the EU never followed suit. Some countries like Germany are now considering their own sanctions. 

Amra Alirejsovic and Ajdin Muratovic from VOA’s Bosnian Service contributed to this report.

Twitter Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey Steps Down

Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down as the company’s leader.  

In a news release, Twitter said Dorsey would be replaced by Parag Agrawal, who has been the company’s chief technology officer since 2017. The move is effective immediately.  

“I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders. My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead,” Dorsey said in a statement.

Dorsey made his resignation official in a tweet Monday and attached a letter with an explanation of why he was leaving.  

“not sure anyone has heard but, I resigned from Twitter,” he wrote.

On Sunday, Dorsey tweeted “I love twitter.”

Dorsey, 45, founded the microblogging platform in 2006 and was CEO until 2008 when he was pushed aside only to return to the top spot in 2015.  

Last year, Elliott Management, a major stakeholder in the company, wanted Dorsey to choose between being CEO of Twitter or CEO of Square, a digital payment company he founded.  

Twitter’s stock rose on the news, but trading of the shares was suspended.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

In French Pantheon, Josephine Baker Makes History Yet Again

France is inducting Josephine Baker — Missouri-born cabaret dancer, French World War II spy and civil rights activist — into its Pantheon, the first Black woman honored in the final resting place of France’s most revered luminaries.

On Tuesday, a coffin carrying soils from the U.S., France and Monaco — places where Baker made her mark — will be deposited inside the domed Pantheon monument overlooking the Left Bank of Paris. Her body will stay in Monaco, at the request of her family.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided on her entry into the Pantheon, responding to a petition. In addition to honoring an exceptional figure in French history, the move is meant to send a message against racism and celebrate U.S.-French connections.

“She embodies, before anything, women’s freedom,” Laurent Kupferman, the author of the petition for the move, told The Associated Press.

Baker was born in 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. At 19, having already divorced twice, had relationships with men and women, and started a performing career, she moved to France following a job opportunity.

“She arrives in France in 1925, she’s an emancipated woman, taking her life in her hands, in a country of which she doesn’t even speak the language,” Kupferman said. 

She met immediate success on the Theatre des Champs-Elysees stage, where she appeared topless and wearing a famed banana belt. Her show, embodying the colonial time’s racist stereotypes about African women, caused both condemnation and celebration.

“She was that kind of fantasy: not the Black body of an American woman but of an African woman,” Theatre des Champs-Elysees spokesperson Ophélie Lachaux told the AP. “And that’s why they asked Josephine to dance something ‘tribal,’ ‘savage,’ ‘African’-like.” 

Baker’s career took a more serious turn after that, as she learned to speak five languages and toured internationally. She became a French citizen after her marriage in 1937 to industrialist Jean Lion, a Jewish man who later suffered from anti-Semitic laws of the collaborationist Vichy regime.

In September 1939, as France and Britain declared war against Nazi Germany, Baker got in touch with the head of the French counterintelligence services. She started working as an informant, traveling, getting close to officials and sharing information hidden on her music sheets, according to French military archives.

Researcher and historian Géraud Létang said Baker lived “a double life between, on the one side, the music hall artist, and on the other side, another secret life, later becoming completely illegal, of intelligence agent.” 

After France’s defeat in June 1940, she refused to play for the Nazis who occupied Paris and moved to southwestern France. She continued to work for the French Resistance, using her artistic performances as a cover for her spying activities.

That year, she notably brought into her troupe several spies working for the Allies, allowing them to travel to Spain and Portugal. “She risks the death penalty or, at least, the harsh repression of the Vichy regime or of the Nazi occupant,” Letang said.

The next year, seriously ill, Baker left France for North Africa, where she gathered intelligence for Gen. Charles De Gaulle, including spying on the British and the Americans — who didn’t fully trust him and didn’t share all information.

She also raised funds, including from her personal money. It is estimated she brought the equivalent of 10 million euros ($11.2 million) to support the French Resistance. 

In 1944, Baker joined a female group in the Air Force of the French Liberation Army as a second lieutenant. The group’s logbook notably mentions a 1944 incident off the coast of Corsica, when Senegalese soldiers from colonial troops fighting in the French Liberation Army helped Baker out of the sea. After her plane had to make an emergency landing, they brought “the shipwrecked to the shores, on their large shoulders, Josephine Baker in the front,” the logbook writes. 

Baker also organized concerts for soldiers and civilians near combat zones. After the defeat of the Nazis, she went to Germany to sing for former prisoners and deportees freed from the camps. 

“Baker’s involvement in politics was individual and atypical,” said Benetta Jules-Rosette, a leading scholar on Baker’s life and a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego. 

After the war, Baker got involved in anti-racist politics. She fought against American segregation during a 1951 performance tour of the U.S., causing her to be targeted by the FBI, labeled a communist and banned from her homeland for a decade. The ban was lifted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and she returned to be the only woman to speak at the March on Washington, before Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech.

Back in France, she adopted 12 children from all over the world, creating a “rainbow tribe” to embody her ideal of “universal fraternity.” She purchased a castle and land in the southwestern French town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, where she tried to build a city embodying her values.

“My mother saw the success of the rainbow tribe, because when we caused trouble as kids, she would never know who had done it because we never ratted on each other, risking collective punishment,” one of Baker’s sons, Brian Bouillon Baker, told the AP. “I heard her say to some friends ‘I’m mad to never know who causes trouble, but I’m happy and proud that my kids stand united.’”

Toward the end of her life, she ran into financial trouble, was evicted and lost her properties. She received support from Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered Baker a place for her and her children to live.

She rebuilt her career but in 1975, four days after the triumphant opening of a comeback tour, she fell into a coma and passed away from a brain hemorrhage. She was buried in Monaco.

While Baker is widely appreciated in France, some critics of Macron question why he chose an American-born figure as the first Black woman in the Pantheon, instead of someone who rose up against racism and colonialism in France itself. 

The Pantheon, built at the end of the 18th century, honors 72 men and five women, including Baker. She joins two other Black figures in the mausoleum: Gaullist resister Felix Eboué and famed writer Alexandre Dumas.

“These are people who have committed themselves, especially to others,” Pantheon administrator David Medec told the AP. “It is not only excellence in a field of competence, it is really the question of commitment, commitment to others.”