KATHMANDU: A serving Nepali Army colonel, currently deployed in the UN Peace Mission in Sudan, has been arrested in London on suspicion of committing torture in 2005 in Nepal.
Metropolitan Police, London, arrested Colonel Kumar Lama, 46, in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, at 7:19am today. The officer was in London on his Christmas/New Year leave in order to meet his wife, a nurse by profession. Lama is said to be a frequent visitor to London since 2007.
The Embassy of Nepal in the UK confirmed that it has ‘received information about the arrest of a serving Nepali Army officer’ from both the Metropolitan Police and UK Foreign Office. “We have asked them to provide details of the arrestee in writing,” Deputy Chief of Mission Tej Bahadur Keshetri told The Himalayan Times.
A source close to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha too confirmed the arrest of Lama. Immediately after his arrest, Chief of Army Staff Gen Gaurav Shumsher Rana apprised Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai of the development in London, sources said.
It is the first case in Nepal’s history that a serving security officer has been arrested in foreign land in human rights violation case under universal jurisdiction.
Source confirmed that a group of Nepali rights activists, along with a London-based law firm, Hickman & Rose, had complained to the London police for his arrest.
“This is a welcome step,” Mandira Sharma, Executive Director of Advocacy Forum, told THT. Advocacy Forum is also a party in the case, as it had jointly initiated the case with Hickman & Rose. “Domestic jurisdiction was ineffective to provide justice to victims of human rights, therefore we hope that this may help provide justice,” she added.
Talking to THT, Nepal and India in-charge at Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Gareth Roberts, said ‘the man was being held on suspicion of torture contrary to Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988’. According to the BBC, the rarely-used 1988 war crimes law is known as a ‘universal jurisdiction’ offence and it permits the UK to arrest and prosecute people accused of human rights abuses committed overseas, even if the crime is not connected to events in the UK.
Following the incident of torture in 2005, Lama was transferred and his promotion was withheld for long. Former army chief Chhatra Man Singh Gurung had about a year ago deputed him for Sudan mission.
The victims have welcomed Lama’s arrest and hoped for justice through a fair trial.
“I am delighted and relieved to hear that finally the officer who was involved in torturing me has been arrested. I trust that the British system will deliver justice; something I was not able to get in my own country,” the Hickman & Rose mentioned in a statement, quoting one of the victims.
The case of 2005
KATHMANDU: In 2005, Kumar Lama was battalion commander in the Gorusinge barracks in the Kapilvastu district. According to an Amnesty International report, Lama was then involved in the arrest and torture of Karem Husen and Tofal Haji in the Gorusinge-based army barracks on April 14 and April 21, respectively, in 2005. A visiting Amnesty International delegation in its report said that it was told: Husen was allegedly a Maoist area commander and Haji was described as ‘a very dangerous symbol of terror’. Both men had already spent six months in prison. AI report says the duo kept in plastic tents, surrounded by barbed wire in three-metre radius, in the middle of the barracks. It further says they were forced to have their hair and beard shaved. Before the incumbent commander took over the barracks, the two men were also prevented from praying. They were frequently beaten up during the first three days of detention and were kept blindfolded and permanently handcuffed. They were thrashed at least for 30 minutes until they fell unconscious.