The case was the first trial in the Netherlands based on the Torture Convention Implementation Act of 1988 and on the International Crimes Act of 2003.
The investigations which concluded with his conviction were led by the Netherlands National Investigation Team for War Crimes (Nationaal Opsporingsteam Voor Oorlogsmisdrijven, NOVO), which was set up in 1998.
The NOVO team had been criticised in the Dutch Parliament and in the media because the Public Prosecution Service had for a long time failed to institute criminal proceedings as a result of the team’s investigations.
The NOVO team is responsible for a number of “1F files”. The abbreviation 1F refers to article 1F of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which states that the Convention shall not apply to an asylum seeker “with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity”. A large proportion of these files relate to Afghans, the rest to other nationalities.
The reason for which the Public Prosecution Service had for a long time not succeeded in bringing a 1F-case before the courts lies in the practical problems involved in investigating such crimes. To mention particularly are the difficulties involved in tracing and talking to witnesses who are mostly abroad, and persuading them to make a statement, as well as the lapse of time between the commission of the offence and the investigation.
In 2002, Utrecht University evaluated the investigation and prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands. As a result of this report, the means at the disposal of this service were doubled and other measures were adopted, amongst which are the improvement of cooperation and information exchange with the services concerned, the strengthening of the control of investigations and the increase in and retention of investigative expertise.
Since then the backlog of 1F cases has been dealt with rapidly, and on a project basis, assisted by experts on the countries of origin of suspects. In the meantime, it is said that the NOVO team has started a variety of investigations that would appear to offer sufficient scope for the successful investigation and prosecution of war criminals.
The case of Nzapali was the NOVO-team’s first success. The culmination of its efforts so far is to be seen in the 1F-trial which led to a successful conviction of the Afghan war criminals Habibullah Jalalzoy and Heshamuddin Hesam, in September-October 2005 (see both profiles on Trial Watch).