In a first, UK arrests Nepal Army colonel

KATHMANDU, JAN 04 - Reacting strongly against impunity in Nepal, the United Kingdom on Thursday arrested a Nepal Army officer over allegations of torture committed during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

The 46-year old officer, whose name was not released by Scotland Yard, was arrested at home in St Leonard’s-on-Sea near Hastings on the southern English coast, at 0719 GMT, according to a statement released by the British Metropolitan Police.

The Nepali Embassy in London communicated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu on Thursday night that the individual was Col Kumar Lama, currently a military observer in Southern Sudan, who was on a vacation in the United Kingdom.

This is the first time a Nepali official involved in conflict-era crimes has been arrested abroad under the universal jurisdiction of international criminal law. Following investigations, the colonel will face trial in a British court, according to sources.

The officer was taken to a police station in Sussex where he remains in custody. The officer has been arrested under British law, which allows prosecutors to act against people suspected of torture anywhere in the world. The investigation is being led by the Counter Terrorism Command, responsible for investigating alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.

Confirming the arrest, a British Embassy Spokesperson in Kathmandu said the case was taken up by the police as per the UK’s universal jurisdiction over serious international crimes, including torture.

“He has been arrested on suspicion of torture as per section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988,” said the spokesperson. The British police communicated the arrest to the Nepali mission in the UK, but had not instantly given the name of the individual, said a Nepal Embassy official in London over telephone.

Col Lama was the head of the then Royal Nepal Army’s Gorusinghe Barracks in Kapilbastu during 2005 and is accused of torturing a detainee there.

“The tortures at Shivadal Battalion were unbearable. There, I was blindfolded, my hands were tied up and I was put on the ground. They only used to lift my blindfold when they gave me food

or when I went to the toilet,” a victim from the barracks was quoted in a report prepared by the Advocacy Forum in 2006 as saying.

The Advocacy Forum and the UK-based firm Hickman and Rose had drawn the attention of the UK government to the torture suspect residing in the UK. “I am delighted and relieved to hear that the officer who was involved in torturing me has been finally arrested. I trust the British system will deliver justice; something I was not able to get in my

own country,” the two organisations quoted the victim as saying in a joint statement issued on Thursday evening.

Nepal Army sources said Lama faced court-martial for hiding weapons during a battle with the Maoist rebels. Lama had travelled to the UK two weeks ago to meet his wife, who works as a staff nurse and lives in St Leonards-on-Sea.  If the suspect is prosecuted for a torture offence, this will be the second such case in the UK since the law came into force in 1988. The first case in July 2005 resulted in a 20-year jail sentence for a former Afghan warlord hiding in south London.

In Kathmandu, Nepal Army Spokesman Brig Gen Suresh Sharma was not available for comments despite repeated attempts. A senior Army official, however, condemned the move, saying that the laws of the home country and not the country where the NA colonel was travelling apply to conflict-era cases.

“Everybody is turning a blind eye to the Maoists withdrawing outstanding cases of murder and other criminal acts against their cadres. The UK’s action is unacceptable,” said the general in Kathmandu.

Former Legal Department Chief of the Nepal Army BA Kumar Sharma said the UK government had “overstepped its jurisdiction in detaining an individual of a sovereign country on unfounded allegations.”

“British soldiers have tortured many individuals in the Great World Wars. If they can detain our people, why can’t we detain theirs when they are here-all on the basis of allegations,” said retired Maj Gen Sharma.

He said the UK government should allow the individual to return to Nepal and face charges according to domestic laws.

The British Embassy in Kathmandu had earlier refused to entertain a visa application of IGP Kuber Singh Rana, saying that he has outstanding human rights violation charges.


Posted on: 2013-01-04 08:28