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Human Rights Watch expressed dismay with the French government's failure to prevent a former Algerian defense minister accused of torture from leaving the country.

General Khaled Nezzar departed from France on April 26th, one day after two victims of torture and the family of a third filed civil lawsuits alleging his responsibility for torture committed while he was Algeria's defense minister from 1990-93. Nezzar, 64, is now retired from government and was in Paris to promote his memoirs.

"France has cynically placed its relations with Algeria ahead of its international legal obligations," said Reed Brody, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. "It is shameful that the French government let Nezzar leave the country without conducting an investigation of the very serious allegations against him."

Nezzar headed the Algerian armed forces when it was given the leading role in fighting terrorism in the country. In 1992 the Interior Ministry and later the military began to engage in the systematic use of torture against persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of the Islamist movement.

The 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment permits states, after an examination of available information, to take into custody a person alleged to have committed torture. The state must then make a preliminary inquiry into the facts of the allegations. France became a party to the Convention against Torture in 1986.

Human Rights Watch has pressed for the prosecution of serious violators of human rights throughout the world. The organization initiated the prosecution in Senegal of the former dictator of Chad, Hiss?e Habr? and was a petitioner in the case involving Augusto Pinochet in Britain's House of Lords. The organization has also advocated for the creation of an International Criminal Court.

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