Swiss federal prosecutors have announced that they have officially indicted former Algerian defence minister Khaled Nezzar for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity during the bloody civil war in Algeria in the 1990s. Nezzar, 85, who was minister of defence in Algeria between 1990 and 1993 and member of the high council of state from 1992 to 1994, stands accused of violating the laws of armed conflicts, as set out in the Geneva conventions.
According to the Swiss attorney general’s office, Nezzar is alleged 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” between 1992 and 1994. Nezzar is 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.
Trial International said the move means Nezzar will “finally” stand trial in Switzerland, and it “renews hope that victims of the Algerian civil war (1991-2002) will get justice”. The group said Nezzar would be the highest-ranking military official ever tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity 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.
The 1990s marked a dark era for Algeria as the military-backed government waged a murderous war with Islamist extremists seeking power. An estimated 200,000 people were killed, and the nation has yet to heal.
Nezzar’s lawyers said he contested the claims, and said he spoke out against torture in particular as early as the 1990s. “The case file doesn’t make it possible to establish either that Gen. Khaled Nezzar ordered or gave assistance to abuses held against him, or even that he was informed about them or refrained from acting to prevent them,” Caroline Schumacher and Magali Buser said in a statement. He is reportedly in Algeria and ailing, meaning that any trial would likely be conducted in absentia.