Kumar Lama was recruited into the Nepalese Army as a combat engineer in 1986. During the Nepalese civil war he was a commander of the Gorusinghe barracks in Kapilvastu. Lama left Nepal after the political changes in 2006. In 2008, he applied for and was given indefinite residence rights in the UK. The same year, he was convicted by the Kapilvastu district court in Nepal for torture, as a result of which his promotion was suspended for 15 months.
In 2011, Lama was transferred to the “disaster unit” under the Director General of Military Operations at the Army Headquarters and subsequently promoted to the rank of colonel. He served as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon in 1991 and 1996 and in Sierra Leone in 2001. Lama also served in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
A victim of torture during the Nepalese civil war launched a complaint to the UK Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command. Lama was suspected of two separate incidents of torture allegedly committed between April and October 2005 on Janak Bahadur Raut and Karam Hussain, detainees at the Gorusinghe Army Barracks in Kapilvastu Nepal. Both victims were suspected of supporting the Maoist movement.
As a result of these allegations and subsequent investigations, Lama was arrested on 3 January 2013 at his home in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings (United Kingdom), under Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This Act allows the UK, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, to arrest and prosecute people accused of human rights abuses committed outside the UK. Nepal instructed its London embassy to submit a protest note to the British government demanding immediate release of Lama, claiming he was serving as a United Nations peacekeeper when arrested. As a response, the spokesperson of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Kieran Dwyer, confirmed that the United Nations Secretary General had waived Lama’s diplomatic immunity as a UN peacekeeper because the allegded crimes did not relate to Lama’s functions of an expert on mission and were allegdly committed before he took in function at the UN.
Lama was held in the Belmarsh Prison (United Kingdom) during his trial. He was charged for two incidents of intentionally inflicting severe pain or suffering in the exercise of his functions as a public official. The incidents were allegdly committed between 15 April and 1 May 2005 and between 15 April and 31 October 2005.
On 24 January 2013, Lama appeared by video link from prison at the preliminary hearing at the Central Criminal Court in London. Lama’s counsels requested bail as they claimed the trial was against the principle of res judicata because Lama was already punished in Nepal by getting his promotion withheld for over one year. However, the application was denied by Judge Adrian Fulford.
On 24 February 2015, the trial commenced at London’s Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales. The prosecution presented evidence regarding the charges with an alleged victim presenting oral testimony on 9 March 2015. On 18 March 2015, the trial of Lama was adjourned until August 2015 due to the lack of a qualified interpreter.
On 2 august 2016, the jury acquitted Lama of one of the two counts of torture he was facing, for the mistreatment of Karam Hussein. Yet, the jurry could not reach a verdict for the acts of torture committed against Janak Bahadur Raut. On 6 September 2016, he was acquitted of all charges.
Lama is the first person to be tried outside Nepal for crimes committed during the Nepalese civil war of 1996-2006.
It is also the first case in Nepal’s history that a serving security officer has been arrested in a foreign land in a human rights violation case under universal jurisdiction.