Algeria: Khaled Nezzar is reportedly dying. Time is running out for the victims
(Geneva, 23 August 2023) – According to information recently made public, former Algerian Minister of Defense Khaled Nezzar is on his deathbed. An indictment by the Swiss authorities is still pending, 12 years after they opened criminal proceedings for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity against the former general! When the accused passes away, the case will be closed and the victims’ demands will forever remain unanswered, leaving the wounds of the “black decade” open. This would highlight the serious shortcomings of the Swiss prosecuting authorities in this case.
The criminal denunciation filed by TRIAL International against Khaled Nezzar on 19 October 2011, marked the start of a legal battle lasting almost twelve years, which is likely to come to an end in the event of his death, as his state of health is said to be deteriorating.
The swift opening of criminal proceedings in Switzerland for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity against one of the most important representatives of the regime in power in Algeria in the early 1990s, represented a first major success for the victims.
From this moment on, the legal victories succeeded each other: first on 25 July 2012, when the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (FCC) rejected the immunity claimed by Mr. Nezzar. Then, on 30 May 2018, when the FCC in a landmark decision recognized both the existence of an armed conflict at the time of the events and Khaled Nezzar’s involvement in numerous crimes committed between 1992 and 1994.
At the beginning of 2022, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General (OAG) finally summoned Khaled Nezzar to Switzerland for his final hearing, the ultimate step towards the closing of the investigation, paving the way for a possible trial. Today, however, there is a concrete risk that the trial will never take place, thus dashing the victims’ hope for justice, and the possibility of a whole generation of Algerians to access some form of truth.
Throughout these years of investigation, the victims – supported by TRIAL International and represented by their lawyers – have redoubled in patience and courage, resisting the threats and pressure they have been subject to. The passage of time, however, has already taken its toll on one of them, who recently died without having been able to experience the sense of justice he deserved.
The slowness of this procedure illustrates once again the shortcomings of the Swiss prosecuting authorities when it comes to fighting impunity for international crimes. The Khaled Nezzar case is not the only one threatened by such an outcome. Notably, a procedure, also initiated by TRIAL International, has been ongoing since 2013 against 86-year-old former Syrian Vice-President Rifaat al-Assad for war crimes.
According to Vony Rambolamanana, Senior Legal Advisor at TRIAL International, “for many years, our organization has been calling for adequate resources to be allocated to the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes, so that investigations could be completed efficiently and within a reasonable timeframe. It is high time that these calls were heeded, in the interest of the victims”.
Even if the possibility of a trial against Khaled Nezzar is fading away, the prosecuting authorities can still issue an indictment. Of a more symbolic value, it would at least show the victims that they have not battled all those years in vain.
TRIAL International is therefore once again urgently calling on the OAG to do everything in its power to ensure that the proceedings against Khaled Nezzar are finally brought to a close, and that an indictment is issued before it is too late.