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Swiss Court Finds No Immunity for the Former Algerian Minister of Defence Accused of War Crimes: Another Brick in the Wall of the Fight Against Impunity

Published on August 15, 2012        Author: 

Gabriella Citroni is Senior Researcher in International Law and Lecturer in International Human Rights Law at the University of Milano-Bicocca. Although she is Senior Legal Adviser for TRIAL, a Switzerland based NGO that filed the criminal complaint in the case discussed below, she has not been involved in this case.

On 25 July 2012 the Swiss Federal Criminal Court issued a decision (which is available, in French, here) whereby it denied the existence of immunity ratione materiae for a former Algerian Minister of Defence accused of war crimes. This decision revives the ongoing debate on the sensitive issue of immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction and opens up for new perspectives for the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction. It also deals with other relevant matters related to the struggle against impunity.

On 19 October 2011, TRIAL, a non-governmental organization active in the field of human rights headquartered in Switzerland filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Khaled Nezzar, accusing him of war crimes committed during the Algerian civil war (1992-2000). On 19 and 20 October 2011, two individuals of Algerian origin enjoying the status of refugees in Switzerland (one of whom acquired Swiss nationality), also filed criminal complaints against Mr. Nezzar, alleging that they were subjected to torture in 1993.

Mr. Khaled Nezzar, a former general, was Chief of the Algerian Army in 1988, later promoted to Chief of Staff and subsequently appointed as Minister of Defence. During the same period he also was a member of the “High Council of State” (Haut Comité d’Etat, hereinafter “HCE”), which was a collegial body established on 14 January 1992 to replace the President. The HCE functioned until January 1994 and during this period it was entrusted with “all the powers attributed by the Constitution to the President of the Republic”.

When the criminal complaints were filed, Mr. Nezzar was staying in a hotel in Switzland while in transit through that country. Read the rest of this entry…