Nepali Citizen Arrested in the UK for Alleged War Crimes

The UK police has used universal jurisdiction law to arrest a Nepali army colonel residing in the in East Sussex town of the UK. The Nepali man has been accused of torturing during the decade-long (1996-2006) civil war in Nepal. UN has recorded more than 2,500 cases of torture during the conflict in Nepal and this is probably the first time any Nepali has been arrested for torture. UK police hasn’t revealed the identity of the man.

Although the details of the alleged offense have not been made clear, Scotland Yard – the home for metropolitan police in the UK issued a statement saying:

“Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service have today arrested a man in connection with torture allegedly committed during the Nepali civil war.”

Images of the civil war in Nepal – Maoist fighters take part in training in a remote village. Image by Bimal Sharma. Copyright Demotix (22/7/2006)

The arrest has made clear that crimes can be prosecuted in Britain regardless of where they occurred. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said:

The arrest in the United Kingdom on January 3, 2013, of a Nepali army colonel suspected of torture sends a warning to those accused of serious crimes in Nepal and elsewhere that they cannot hide from the law forever.

Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW further added:

The UK’s move to arrest a Nepali army officer for torture during Nepal’s brutal civil war is an important step in enforcing the UN Convention against Torture. Those responsible for committing torture in Nepal can no longer assume they are beyond the reach of the law in other countries.

BBC Nepali which extensively covered the story writes in its online version:

“The investigation is being led by the Counter Terrorism Command, who have responsibility for investigating alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.”

Nepal’s decade-long civil war which came to an end in 2006 claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people. The country saw thousands and thousands of human rights abuses during that period. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)  published a 233-paged ‘Nepal Conflict Report’ which recorded more than 2,500 cases of torture.

Kanak Mani Dixit, a Nepali journalist, and Editor and Publisher of Himal Southasian magazine writes in a letter sent to The Guardian of London (later shared on facebook):

“This arrest in Sussex is the start of ‘universal jurisdiction’ against state-side and insurgent perpetrators who destroyed the society and economy of Nepal between 1996 and 2006. The UN's OHCHR confirms in its ”Nepal Conflict Report’ that the level of violence visited upon the people over the decade was of a high degree, including torture, disappearance, abduction, rape and killing. This application of ‘universal jurisdiction’ is also the result of the refusal of the political parties, and the Maoists, to create credible transitional justice mechanisms within the country over the last five years for the sake of true justice and genuine reconciliation. Instead, the present Maoist-led regime has been seeking pardon for murder conficts and has cancelled court cases against hundreds accused of heinous crimes. The vicitms have been left bereft.”

The BBC broke the news with this report that has been tweeted more than hundred times:

@BBCBreaking: Counter terrorism officers arrest 46-year-old man in Sussex, UK, over alleged torture committed during civil war in Nepal.

Everyone is wondering why this step has been taken by the UK police, when several years have passed since the civil war. According to The Independent:

The colonel, who has also not been named, was arrested under section 134 of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, which makes torture by a public official an offence wherever it is committed in the world.

This is for the first time in Nepal’s history that a serving security officer has been arrested on foreign territory for human rights violations under universal jurisdiction. In a Nepali blog, I expressed my fears of such cases increasing in the UK:

UK is home to thousands of Nepalis that probably involves a significant population involved in the civil War then. If the allegations are proved and if the man is found guilty, how will it affect several others that were part of the civil war living in the UK?

Latest Update: The Embassy of Nepal in the UK speaking to the Himalayan Times has confirmed that the man arrested was serving Nepali Army colonel Kumar Lama, currently deployed in the UN Peace Mission in Sudan. The officer was in London on his Christmas/New Year leave in order to meet his wife, a nurse by profession.

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