Nepalese colonel bids for immunity from UK torture charges

4th June 2013, Comments 0 comments

A Nepalese army colonel facing torture charges in Britain should have immunity from prosecution, his lawyer told a London court on Tuesday.

Kumar Lama, 46, is accused of torturing two men when he was in charge of a barracks in Nepal in 2005, at the height of the Himalayan nation's decade-long conflict between Maoist rebels and government forces.

He was arrested in England in January, sparking a diplomatic row between Britain and Nepal, which angrily condemned the move to prosecute him there.

Lama was detained under British law, which allows prosecutors to act against people suspected of torture no matter where it took place in the world.

Appearing at England's central criminal court, the Old Bailey in London, Lama's lawyer said the colonel's current work as a military observer for the United Nations in South Sudan meant he should enjoy immunity from prosecution in Britain.

"He is a UN expert and is entitled to immunity," defence barrister James Lewis told the court.

Lewis added that prosecutors agreed that the alleged offences, if true, were carried out "in an official capacity" -- and that Lama should possibly also enjoy immunity on this basis.

Smartly-dressed in a light grey suit, striped shirt and navy blue tie, Lama sat in the dock with an interpreter by his side.

His barrister told the court that Nepalese Prime Minister Khilraj Regmi had written to his British counterpart David Cameron to protest that under international law Britain should have given Nepal the opportunity to extradite Lama.

"It simply wasn't done in this case," Lewis said. "That is the complaint that was made by the prime minister of Nepal."

But British prosecutors argue that Lama cannot be granted immunity if accused of torture, which they say is an international crime.

Prosecution lawyer Bobbie Gheema also argued that even if Lama was extradited and faced a trial in Nepal over the allegations, he might not be adequately punished if found guilty.

"There are no criminal sanctions for torture in Nepalese law," she told the court.

Lama has already been convicted in Nepal of one of the two charges he faces in Britain, and was punished with a ban on being promoted for a year, the court heard.

The former battalion commander, who is currently on bail, was arrested in the southeastern English seaside town of Hastings while on a break from his service with the UN in South Sudan.

He has yet to plead innocent or guilty to the charges he faces in Britain.

More than 16,000 people died in the decade-long conflict between Maoist rebels and Nepalese government forces which ended in 2006, while around 1,000 are still missing.

There are allegations of killings and torture on both sides, and rights groups say little has been done to bring justice to victims and their families.

© 2013 AFP

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