Britain backs prosecution of Nepal torture suspect
Kathmandu protests over arrest of UN worker for crimes allegedly committed during civil war
The Guardian in London
The British government has defended the arrest and prosecution of a suspected Nepalese government torturer who is scheduled to go on trial in London at the end of the month.
Colonel Kumar Lama, 46, appeared at Westminster magistrates court in central London on Saturday charged with torturing two men in an army barracks in Nepal in 2005 towards the end of the decade-long civil war between anti-monarchist Maoist extremists and government forces which cost 13,000 lives and left another 1,300 people missing. He had been arrested in St Leonards-on-Sea on the English south coast, where he was understood to have been visiting family members.
The court heard his wife is a nurse and they have two children, a 21-year-old university student and a 17-year-old senior school student. Lama was working as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and he was about to return to Africa when he was arrested.
The decision to prosecute, authorised by the British attorney general, Dominic Grieve, sparked a diplomatic row between Kathmandu and London.
Nepal's ruling party complained it was an "objectionable" intervention in the country's internal matters. Nepal's deputy prime minister, Narayankaji Shrestha, told reporters that his government had demanded the immediate release of Lama and Nepal instructed its embassy in London to submit a protest note to the British government.
But lawyers for the alleged victims welcomed the British authorities' decision to employ principles of universal jurisdiction which allow crimes of torture to be prosecuted in the UK regardless of where they happened.
The case is seen as potentially significant by campaigners for post-conflict justice in the Himalayan state because, despite well-documented atrocities on both sides, there have so far been no prosecutions in Nepal.
Lama is being held in custody until his trial. He is accused of "intentionally inflicting severe pain or suffering" on two men at the Gorusinghe army barracks in the Kapilvastu district where Lama was in charge.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: "The lesson for the Nepal government is that those responsible for tackling crimes in other countries are ready and willing to investigate and prosecute torture, something Nepal's culture of impunity has failed to do in seven years."