KATHMANDU, Jan 6: Major political parties in Nepal have protested the arrest of Nepal Army Colonel Kumar Lama in the UK on suspicion of his involvement in torturing a detainee back in 2005 when Maoist insurgency was at its peak in Nepal.
Stating that they are committed to forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with a broader mandate to address cases of conflict-era human rights violation, the parties have also asked the UK government to immediately release him and allow him to join duty at UN Peacekeeping mission in Sudan.
“The incident that happened in the UK and the way our army official was arrested is a serious case against a sovereign nation. This is a big blow to Nepalis. This has also put question over our age-old relations with the UK,” said UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Chairman Dahal said such a move from a friendly country at a time when political parties in Nepal are holding consultation to form TRC could hamper the ongoing peace process. “UK must be aware that parties are in the process to form a TRC to address the cases of human rights violations. The arrest of army officer that came without prior information has saddened our party,” he said.
Talking to a group of journalists at his residence Saturday afternoon, Chairman Dahal also said that the move could seriously jeopardize the ongoing peace process in the country. “This incident has indicative of more serious things to come,” he further said.
On Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) summoned UK Ambassador to Nepal, John Anthony Tucknott, and handed over a “protest note” to the UK government demanding Lama´s immediate release.
A specialist unit of the Metropolitan Police Service had arrested Colonel Lama in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex on Thursday morning on suspicion of torturing a detainee in Nepal in 2005 when he was the battalion commander in the Gorusinge Barracks in Kapilvastu during the Maoist insurgency. Lama had reached the UK some two weeks ago on a leave from his duty in Sudan to meet his wife and children, who are living there for the past several years.
UK police said Colonel Lama was arrested as per the “universal jurisdiction”, which permits the UK to arrest and prosecute people accused of human rights abuses committed overseas, even if the crime is not connected to events in the UK.
Main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) has also condemned the arrest of Colonel Lama, saying that the arrest over "so called torture without prior information and valid proofs cannot be acceptable to any sovereign state." “Nepali Congress deeply condemns the unexpected arrest and asks the UK government for immediate release of Lama,” said an NC statement issued on Saturday. The party also appealed to the UK government to help Lama to join his duty in South Sudan while appreciating the sensitivity of peace keeping mission.
In the statement issued by the party´s Chief Secretary Basanta Kumar Gautam, NC has also reaffirmed its commitment to human rights and democracy. While adding that NC would not compromise on human rights and democracy, the party said it is committed to forming TRC to address the cases of human rights violations occurred in the conflict era.
CPN-UML has also flayed the arrest, terming it ´inappropriate´. “Of course, we have been little late in forming transitional justice mechanism. But the process is underway and ordinances relating to Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Disappearance Commission have reached the president´s office. The arrest of army colonel that breaches Nepal´s jurisdiction is inappropriate,” said UML spokesman Pradip Gyawali.
Gyawali also demanded immediate release of arrested Colonel Lama. “The delay in forming transitional justice mechanism does not mean that we have given amnest to all the perpetrators of human rights violations. The move to invoke international law without waiting for our transitional mechanism to take shape and address the issues of human rights violations in the conflict is inappropriate,” he further said.
Meanwhile, CPN-Maoist spokesperson Pampha Bhusal termed the arrest as an intervention on Nepal´s sovereignty and demanded that the colonel be immediately released.