The U.K.’s central criminal court, Old Bailey, has set March 2014 as trial date for Nepal Army Colonel Kumar Lama, arrested in January for allegedly torturing two people inside army barracks in Kapilvastu district in 2005 during the Maoist insurgency.
Col. Lama has been charged under U.K. laws with ‘universal jurisdiction’ that allow the U.K. courts to take up cases of torture committed anywhere in the world.
Responding to the decision, the South Asia Legal Advisor of the International Commission of Jurists, Sheila Varadan, warned that “there will be more Lamas” if Nepal does not reform its justice system to address war-time crimes.
Kathmandu maintains that the arrest breaches its sovereignty.
The case is likely to take years to conclude. But if convicted, he faces 20 years for each count of torture.
The last South Asian to be convicted under U.K.’s universal jurisdiction was Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, a mujahideen leader who had fled to the U.K. under a false passport. He was arrested in May 2003, and sentenced to 20 years in jail in July 2005.
Nepal’s Maoist parties oppose the arrests, insisting that crimes committed during the insurgency should be looked into by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a commission for the disappeared, as the parties agreed in the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
‘Threat to peace process’
Senior Maoist leaders repeatedly say that “selectively reviving” the war-time cases will derail the peace process, and emphasise that greater numbers of victims have been Maoist supporters who were abused or disappeared by the state’s security forces.
Maoist party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” has said in the past that if arrests must be made, it must be of him and former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, since they had led the party during the insurgency.
Attempts to form a TRC and a commission for the disappeared have failed, however, and an ordinance on the TRC lies stalled at the Supreme Court after human rights activists challenged provisions in it which, they claim, makes “blanket amnesty” possible in even the most serious cases of human rights abuse committed by the then Royal Nepal Army and the Maoist rebels.