By Prakash Humagain
Nepal’s Maoist leaders are now at imminent risk of prosecution while visiting countries that are obligated to arrest perpetrators of human rights violations under laws that call for universal jurisdiction.
Government ministers and members of Nepali security agencies who served during the civil war from 1996 to 2005 and are responsible for war crimes may also face a similar fate, legal and media experts in the Himalayan nation warn.
The only reason war criminals have evaded justice so far is the painstaking legal process of evidence-gathering which is not readily accessible to Nepal’s majority of poor victims, says internationally prominent human rights defender Mandira Sharma.
The southasia.com.au contacted Sharma who is currently in the UK for the trial of Nepali army officer Col Kumar Lama. The 49 year old is currently being tried for two counts of torture allegedly committed in 2005 when he was in charge of Gorusinghe Army Barracks in western Nepal. Sharma, the co-founder of Kathmandu-based NGO Advocacy Forum, declined to divulge detailed information about the case in respect of a court order.
Lama was arrested in the UK in January 2013 by ‘detectives with specialist experience of war crimes’ on the charge of ordering the torture of two victims, Janak Raut and Karam Hussain. The arrest was made on the basis of a dossier of evidence submitted by Advocacy Forum and British law firm Hickman and Rose. Lama denies both charges.
The Nepal Army officer is being prosecuted under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, a law that asserts universal jurisdiction. Lama’s detention and trial has heightened the chances of Maoist leaders and other government officials accused of human rights violations of being prosecuted in England or other nations with similar human rights and humanitarian laws. If there is evidence and if the perpetrators are present in the UK then ‘the UK is bound to either prosecute or extradite to be prosecuted’, Sharma pointed out.
Sharma, who won Human Rights Watch Human Rights Defender Award in 2006, warns if Nepal does not try its war criminals then other countries will as ‘no country should provide safe heaven to perpetrators of human rights violations’. “Whether he is convicted or not, the message is that if Nepal does not prosecute those involved in serious human rights violations, other country will do that,” Sharma warned. She argued that if Nepal did not want its officials prosecuted by other nations then it must act on its ‘obligation to investigate and prosecute the allegation of human rights violations’.
However, Maoist leader Agni Sapkota told southasia.com.au that he and his fellow-comrades are unshaken by Lama’s arrest in England. According to the senior leader who was actively engaged in a guerrilla warfare during the civil war, Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is not worried about being arrested while traveling internationally.
Sapkota calls Lama’s trial England’s interference in Nepal’s internal affairs and has demanded the case to be brought under the jurisdiction of recently formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But senior advocate Bishnu Bhattarai argues Lama’s case cannot be looked at as an ‘interference’ in Nepal’s internal affairs. Charges against him are related to human rights which in turn are not confined within the borders of one particular country and hence, a justifiable prosecution.
Col Lama’s arrest has shown that human rights abusers of Nepal should be on guard while undertaking international travels, he observed.
At least 16,000 Nepalis lost their lives during the armed rebellion and as many as 1,400 others disappeared. National and international human rights watchdogs accuse both Maoists and the state, of deaths, rape, torture and forced disappearances.
On February 26, the Supreme Court of Nepal prohibited the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from offering amnesty to soldiers and former Maoist rebels in cases of serious war crimes. The Constituent Assembly had given the commission the power to grant amnesty for all crimes except rape. The ruling of the apex court followed a mass petition filed by 234 victims.
(With inputs from Krandan Chapagain, news chief at Nepal1 TV and chief editor of nepaldesh.com)