A criminal court in Switzerland has ruled that former Algerian military chief Khaled Nezzar cannot claim immunity and can be tried outside Algeria for war crimes committed while he was in power in the early 90s.
The court ruled that "it would be both contradictory and futile to, on the one hand, fight against these gross violations to the most fundamental human values and, on the other hand, to accept a large interpretation of the immunity rules [...]".
Mr Nezzar was arrested last October under a Swiss law which allows prosecution of some violations of international law.
TRIAL, an organisation fighting impunity based in Geneva, sought his arrest for war crimes and were backed by two Algerian refugees in Switzerland told Swiss officials about torture and abuse by soldiers while Mr Nezzar was in command.
Mr Nezzar was released after promising he would cooperate with the inquiries; however it is thought he has now returned to Algeria.
According to Philip Grant, director of TRIAL, "this decision sets a ground-breaking precedent that will have a significant impact beyond our borders and gives a very strong signal to executioners: in the future, they can no longer hide behind their official position to commit atrocities."
Grant told Reuters that it was now up to Swiss prosecutors to indict Mr Nezzar.
"If he declines to come back to Switzerland as he promised, there could be a question of an international arrest warrant,"
He said the decision "sets a ground-breaking precedent that could well be followed by many other countries in handling cases like this".