GENEVA: Former Algerian defense minister Khaled Nezzar has been indicted in Switzerland on charges of committing crimes against humanity in the 1990s during the civil war, state prosecutors said Tuesday.
The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) said it had filed an indictment in the Federal Criminal Court against the 85-year-old, who faces accusations including coordinating torture.
The 1992-2002 Algerian civil war between government forces and Islamists left up to 200,000 people dead.
“Nezzar is accused of violating the laws of armed conflicts in accordance with the Geneva Conventions between 1992 and 1994 in connection with the civil war in Algeria and of committing crimes against humanity,” the OAG said in a statement.
“It is alleged that at the very least he 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.”
The civil war erupted after the army suspended an electoral process when the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of a parliamentary vote in 1991.
The OAG opened criminal proceedings against Nezzar in 2011, following a complaint from the TRIAL International organization, which fights against impunity for war crimes.
Nezzar was living in Switzerland at the time but has since left the country.
The OAG abandoned the proceedings in 2017, concluding that the Algerian civil war was not an internal armed conflict as defined by law.
On appeal, the Federal Criminal Court in 2018 ruled against that decision, and the OAG resumed criminal proceedings.
The indictment, filed on Monday, alleges that Nezzar “knowingly and willingly created structures in order to eliminate the Islamist opposition according to his plan of action.”
“This led to the commission of war crimes and widespread and systematic attacks on civilians suspected of sympathizing with the opposition.”
The OAG documented 11 incidents, each with several allegations, alleged to have taken place between 1992 and 1994.
“The suspected victims are alleged to have been subjected to torture using water and/or electric shocks and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments,” it said.
The OAG stressed that the presumption of innocence applies to the accused.
The indictment “renews hope that victims of the Algerian civil war will get justice,” TRIAL International said on its website.
“Nezzar will be the highest-ranking military official ever tried for such crimes based on the principle of universal jurisdiction.”
The organization wants the trial to begin as soon as possible, citing Nezzar’s state of health.
The Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA) on Tuesday celebrated a “historical legal victory,” calling a demonstration on Wednesday in Algiers to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
According to TRIAL, one of the victims withdrew their complaint under pressure, while another complaint was shelved this year because the victim was no longer reachable. A third victim recently died.