Alleged torturers get warning
Three criminal actions filed against hardline former Defence Minister, Khaled Nezzar, are a warning to Algeria’s senior security officials.
Paris, 27/04/01 – An important precedent reminiscent of the Pinochet Affair was set in Paris this week when three criminal suits were filed against former high-ranking official, Khaled Nezzar, for crimes of torture.
Nezzar, in Paris to speak at the Algerian Cultural Centre, was Defence Minister in the early 1990s and oversaw the fierce security force clampdown in the wake of the 1992 cancelled elections the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win.
Although the French authorities allowed Nezzar to fly out of the country before a magistrate had a chance to summon him, the move has paved the way for criminal action against senior Algerian officials for carrying out, ordering or condoning acts of torture.
It has opened up new possibilities for the exercise of universal jurisdiction in that the case filed against Nezzar was taken out in a French court for crimes committed in his own country against his compatriots.
It has heartened Algerian human rights activists like Nassera Dutour, who heads the Paris-based Algerian Collective for the Relatives of the Missing. She believes it is the beginning of the end of impunity for human rights crimes.
« Although we weren’t parties to the action, it’s the result of the fight against impunity, one of the chief priorities of the relatives of the people who’ve gone missing. We’ll go on tracking down criminals wherever and whoever they are, even if they were granted an amnesty under the Civil Concord Act. »
The International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) sees Nezzar’s « flight [as] an admission of guilt » and he will no longer be able to return to France without risking arrest.
William Bourdon and Antoine Comte, the lawyers who took out the action, were acting on behalf of three unnamed plaintiffs.
Two were victims of torture, one of whom was tortured between January and August 1992 in a police station, an army barracks and a detention camp in the Sahara.
In the third case the plaintiffs are the family of a man who died as a result of his treatment in the Algiers’ notorious Serkadji Prison. Sources say his face was seriously burned.
Since 1992 and the outbreak of civil strife, Algerian and international human rights groups have compiled hundreds of documented cases of torture, summary executions and abductions they allege were the work of the security forces.
Though the case against Nezzar has been closed since he left France the files could serve as ground for future criminal action if a suspect is identified or located in a country – like France – that has signed the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.