Nepalese colonel faces torture trial in UK
Owen Bowcott, LONDON: A Nepalese army officer has gone on trial at the Old Bailey accused of torturing two alleged Maoist rebels in his homeland 10 years ago.
The prosecution of Lieutenant Colonel Kumar Lama, 47, was brought before a London court because of the UK’s obligations under the UN convention against torture to bring suspects to justice wherever they are detained. Torture, like war crimes, is subject to universal jurisdiction, allowing those who allegedly committed crimes abroad to be tried in Britain.
Lama was arrested in 2013 after settling in St Leonard-on-Sea, East Sussex, with his family. He had been had been serving as a UN peacekeeper in South Sudan shortly before being detained.
Charged with presiding over the torture of two men – Janak Raut and Karam Hussain – while in charge of Gorusinghe barracks in Kapilvastu in 2005, Lama denies both counts of inflicting severe pain or suffering.
The prosecution has been brought under section 134 (sub-section 1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The colonel has indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
Opening the case, prosecutor Bobbie Cheema QC said: “The authorities in this country have an obligation in cases where torture is alleged to have been committed if the alleged perpetrators are found within England.
“This commitment to prosecute alleged torturers even if the torture happened in an entirely different country and continent is sometimes called the principle of providing no safe haven for torturers.”
The two alleged victims, Cheema said, were arrested during the decade-long Maoist insurgency on suspicion of being part of or assisting the rebellion.
“Each of them was subjected to mistreatment during their detention at an army barracks called the Gorusinghe barracks. The crown’s case is that the mistreatment amounted to torture, that is severe pain and suffering.”
Cheema said Lama denied participating in or ordering any torture, although he would accept that the two men may have been mistreated at the barracks.
As many as 13,000 people died in the civil war which began in 1996 when the Communist party of Nepal rebelled against the monarchy and tried to establish a people’s republic.
The jury was told that a former UN special rapporteur reported finding a culture of systematic torture in the army and police which was used to try to obtain confessions or extract information.
Professor Manfred Nowak’s report said: “Beating with fists or sticks and kicking or stamping on the victim were prevalent”.
The first alleged victim, Raut, was a medic who worked in a private health clinic. He denied being a Maoist or a supporter of the civil war but was arrested and spent two weeks in custody in the army camp in April 2005 when Lama was a commander there, the court heard.
He was blindfolded, kicked and verbally abused on his arrival and put into iron handcuffs and taken into a forested area where he was told he was going to be tortured, Cheema said.
She recounted how Raut was made to lie face down on the floor where he was beaten with a stick and kicked while being questioned for hours. Lama allegedly said: “I will give medicine to him”, which is a Nepalese euphemism for torture, the jury was told.
The prosecutor said: “The colonel ordered the soldiers to bring an iron rod, a spade and sticks to beat him with. As he lay face down on the ground, handcuffed and blindfolded, soldiers hit him with sticks and kicked him. He was ordered to raise his legs and then the soles of his feet were beaten with sticks and the iron rod, one soldier on each foot.
“He was beaten with such force that the sticks kept breaking and had to be replaced with new ones. This beating on the feet is called falaka. It is extremely painful because we have many nerve endings in our feet, but it may not leave any or many marks.
“At one point, Janak Raut was on his back when the soldiers beat his testicles with a stick.”
He was also held upside down and had water poured into his nose, giving him the feeling of being suffocated, Cheema said. Lama told him he would be buried alive.
In terror, Raut admitted to being a Maoist. Drifting in and out of consciousness, the court heard, he was dragged away feet first. After the first interrogation, he was beaten daily for two weeks, jurors were told.
One soldier, who had a parrot in a cage, allegedly let the bird peck at Raut so that he bled. He was finally released on bail when the king of Nepal declared an end to the state of emergency.
The trial continues.
:: Nepalese army officer Kumar Lama leaves court in London where he is on trial for inflicting severe pain or suffering against two detainees in 2005. Photograph: Lauren Hurley/PA
:: (Source: The Guardian)