The Nepali government should cooperate with any investigation into allegations of torture against Nepal Army Colonel Kumar Lama, recently arrested and charged in the United Kingdom, the ICJ said today.
“The ICJ welcomes the steps taken by the UK to criminally investigate and bring to justice an individual suspected of the serious crime of torture,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director. “If the government wants to prevent the future prosecution of conflict-era human rights violations in foreign countries, then it must cooperate with the UK proceedings, and take immediate steps to investigate and prosecute similar violations domestically, in line with Nepal’s own international obligations and the jurisprudence of Nepal’s Supreme Court.”
UK authorities arrested Colonel Lama on January 3rd for his alleged involvement in the torture of detainees while commander of the Gorusinge Battalion barracks in Kapilbastu in 2005.
Colonel Lama is currently serving as UN peacekeeper in the Sudan. At the time of the arrest, he was visiting family members who reside in the UK.
In response to the arrest, senior Nepali government leaders including the Deputy Prime Minister have called for his immediate release, and characterized the arrest as an “attack on national sovereignty.”
The ICJ pointed out that such statements seem to be predicated on a basic misunderstanding of both the UK and Nepal government’s international obligations to investigate and prosecute acts of torture, which are crimes under international law.
The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, to which both the UK and Nepal are party, expressly provides under article 7 that a State must prosecute or extradite for prosecution a person found under its territorial jurisdiction.
This obligation is an expression of the legal principle of “universal jurisdiction,” under which all States have a duty, not only a right, to prosecute and punish crimes under international law, including torture, and to take effective measures including the adoption of national legislation to exercise jurisdiction over such crimes.
In many countries, including the UK, legislation grants the courts jurisdiction to prosecute certain international crimes, including torture, regardless of where the violations took place.
The UK legislation was passed as part of an effort to comply with international law, including the Geneva Conventions on the laws of war and the Convention Against Torture.
For the UK police to release Colonel Lama without conducting a full investigation, as called for by the government of Nepal, would constitute a violation of the UK’s own international obligations, the ICJ stresses.
“This arrest by the UK police is not a threat to the sovereignty of Nepal; on the contrary, the acceptance of international human rights legal obligations to combat torture constitutes a clear expression of sovereignty by both the UK and Nepal. The UK through its actions this week is rightfully discharging these obligations,” Zarifi said. “Nepali victims have been forced to seek redress outside their own country against perpetrators because of the government of Nepal’s track record of failing to prosecute conflict-era crimes.”
“Decades of experience from around the world demonstrates that the failure to provide truth and justice as a society transitions away from conflict hampers the development of a durable peaceful society. That’s why the Nepali government should do all it can to help thousands of Nepali victims receive truth and justice in Nepal, and wherever perpetrators may be hiding,” Zarifi added.
National courts are generally reluctant to invoke universal jurisdiction to prosecute foreign nationals, and usually only do so when it is clear that national authorities are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute the alleged violation.
In Nepal, successive governments have not only failed to show their commitment to prosecute these crimes, but have made systematic efforts to avoid accountability, and rewarded suspected violators with promotions, ministerial appointments and opportunities to participate in UN peacekeeping operations.
The ICJ advised the government of Nepal that the most effective way to prevent the future arrest and prosecution abroad of those alleged to have been responsible for torture and other gross human rights violations is to:
- Show its commitment to the international rule of law by cooperating with any investigation by the UK police into the culpability of Colonel Lama, including allowing police to visit Nepal if such a request is made as part of their investigation;
- Order the prosecution of serious crimes committed during the conflict to move forward, and end attempts to introduce an amnesty for such crimes;
- Introduce transitional justice legislation that is in line with Nepal’s obligations under international law, and precludes the granting of amnesty for serious crimes;
- End politically-motivated withdrawals of human rights cases now before Nepali courts; and
- Criminalize torture, enforced disappearance and other crimes under international law.
In Kathmandu, for ICJ, Frederick Rawski: t +977-984-959-7681
In Bangkok, for ICJ Asia-Pacific, Sam Zarifi: t +66-807-819-002