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Former Algerian Minister of Defence Indicted in Switzerland on War Crime Charges

Khaled Nezzar is to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity during 1991-2002 Algerian civil war

Victims of the 1991-2002 Algerian civil war have been given hope that they will finally receive justice after the highly unusual announcement by Swiss authorities that a former Algerian minister of defence is to stand trial in Switzerland on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Khaled Nezzar is set to be the highest-ranking military official ever tried for war crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows states to investigate and prosecute people suspected of having committed international crimes regardless of where they were committed, their nationality, or the nationality of the victims.

Switzerland’s office of the attorney general (OAG) filed an indictment in the federal criminal court against Nezzar on Monday.

Nezzar, 85, who was minister of defence in Algeria between 1990 and 1993 and member of the high council of state (Haut Comité d’État – HCE) from 1992 to 1994, stands accused between 1992 and 1994 of violating the laws of armed conflicts, as set out in the Geneva conventions. Between 1988 and 1990 he was the chief of staff of the Armée nationale populaire (National Popular Army).

In a statement, the OAG said the indictment had followed years of complex investigations, in which 24 people had been questioned. It said in particular that Nezzar was alleged “at the very least” to have “knowingly and willingly condoned, coordinated and encouraged the torture and other cruel, inhumane or humiliating acts, physical and psychological assaults, arbitrary detentions and convictions and extra-judicial executions”.

It said Nezzar was presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The indictment follows years of investigation by Trial International, a Geneva-based non-governmental organisation that fights impunity for international crimes and supports victims striving for justice.

It has supported victims of the war who have spent years fighting to bring Nezzar to justice. One of them recently died; another recently withdrew his complaint against Nezzar after allegedly coming under pressure to do so by the Algerian government; and another victim’s case had to be closed after he was no longer contactable, leading to fears that he had died.

One of the remaining five claimants, Abdelwahab Boukezouha, welcomed the indictment which he has been awaiting for 12 years. “I’m not just fighting for myself, but for all of the victims of the Black Decade [the years of the civil war], as well as for the youth and for future generations. Never again should an Algerian man or woman be subjected to what I went through,” he said in a statement through his lawyer.

Trial first filed a criminal complaint against Nezzar in 2011, resulting in his arrest after he was spotted on Swiss soil, which triggered the opening of formal proceedings against him. It has been deeply critical of what it sees as the sluggish approach of the Swiss prosecuting authorities towards this and other battles over impunity for international crimes.

The organisation welcomed the indictment as a “last chance” for victims of the Algerian civil war to receive justice and added that a trial would offer the opportunity for a whole generation of Algerians to access information about the conflict that had been suppressed, due in part to an amnesty law meaning no trials relating to it are permitted in Algeria.

Philip Grant, Trial’s executive director, told the Guardian: “Our hearts are first and foremost with the victims of the civil war in Algeria, who’ve never had any opportunity to get any meaningful sense of justice. This is the very last opportunity if and when the case goes to trial for the victims to have the possibility to be heard and to have the court adjudicate on what happened in the war.”

Fears over the state of Nezzar’s health, amid recent reports that he was even possibly on his deathbed, may mean that the trial never goes ahead.

The conflict between the Algerian government and armed Islamist groups, referred to as the “Black Decade”, led to almost 200,000 missing and dead and resulted in an unknown number of victims of torture, sexual violence and other crimes, which were carried out by both the army and the armed groups.

Nezzar’s lawyers said he denied the charges and considered the investigation against him to be flawed and politically motivated.

“Gen Khaled Nezzar has duly noted the indictment filed against him by the federal prosecutor’s office. As he has continually done so during the 12 year-long investigation, he vehemently disputes that he carried out crimes, ordered or organised, aided and abetted, or tolerated anything that could be defined as war crimes or crimes against humanity. Gen Khaled Nezzar has always in particular opposed torture, already publicly condemning it in the 1990s.”

In 2002, Nezzar unsuccessfully sued the dissident officer Habib Souaidia in Paris for defamation after Souaidia accused him of being responsible for the murder of thousands. Nezzar left France before subsequent claims against him for torture and other crimes could be pursued.

Source : The Guardian

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Erich Adler

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