Switzerland said Wednesday that it had no grounds to charge former Algerian defence minister Khaled Nezzar with war crimes, the latest twist in a controversial five-year-old case.
The Swiss attorney general’s office (OAG) said it could not move forward with a trial because there was no conclusive evidence of a “conflict” in Algeria during the period in question, leaving a key condition for prosecution unfulfilled.
Nezzar was in office from 1990 to 1994 when the military was battling an Islamist opposition in a bloody civil war.
Algerian troops were accused of committing grave abuses during the fighting, including torture and summary executions.
Nezzar was arrested in Switzerland in October 2011 following a complaint filed by rights groups TRIAL International over his alleged role in violations committed from 1992 to 1994.
TRIAL invoked special Swiss legislation adopted in 2011 that allows the country’s justice system to try people suspected of war crimes committed anywhere in the world.
Nezzar was freed shortly after his arrest on condition that he continue to cooperate with Swiss justice and the case has been subject to multiple arguments and appeals since.
In a statement Thursday, the OAG said its investigation showed that the fighting in Algeria from 1992 to 1994 “did not have the required intensity”, to qualify as a conflict, meaning Swiss prosecutors do not have “competence” to proceed with charges.
TRIAL blasted that decision and said it had launched an appeal at a Swiss Federal Court.
“It is indeed incomprehensible that the (OAG) has investigated for five years, questioned some 15 witnesses… without ever questioning the existence of an armed conflict, before abruptly concluding that that was not the case”, Pierre Bayenet, a lawyer representing Algerian complainants said in a TRIAL statement.
Algeria’s civil war, which killed an estimated 200,000 people, followed the army’s decision to cancel a 1992 election that Islamist politicians were poised to win.