Landmark international human rights case opens the door of universal jurisdiction for victims of torture

Tuesday 13 September 2016

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A Nepalese army officer, Kumar Lama, has been cleared at the Old Bailey on charges of torturing suspected Maoist detainees. In 2005 Mr Lama allegedly participated in the torture of two detainees at an army barracks under his command during Nepal’s decade-long internal armed conflict between government and Maoist forces. Janak Raut complained he was subjected to repeated beatings and electric shocks in Nepal in 2005.

Mr Raut is a client of Hickman and Rose solicitors and the Advocacy Forum. His legal team comprised of experts Daniel Machover and Kate Maynard of Hickman and Rose solicitors, and counsel Patrick O'Connor QC of Doughty Street Chambers and Paul Troop of Garden Court Chambers.

On Tuesday 6 September 2016, the CPS announced it would offer no further evidence against Mr Lama. This decision by the CPS is a severe disappointment to the alleged victim, Mr Raut.

Despite the decision of the CPS, this case further establishes the principle of universal jurisdiction in the UK for victims who have suffered torture and other gross violations abroad.

Kumar Lama was charged under a rarely used clause of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act that allows the prosecution in the UK of alleged foreign war criminals. This is only the second prosecution under universal jurisdiction.

Section 134 (sub-section 1) of the Criminal Justice Act permits prosecution of foreign war criminals in the UK under so-called universal jurisdiction. This complies with international treaty obligations such as the 1949 Geneva Convention and the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

Last month, a jury acquitted Kumar Lama on one charge of torture but was unable to reach a verdict on a second charge of torture. The jury decided that there was insufficient evidence for them to be satisfied of Mr Lama’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

That a relatively senior foreign military figure was able to face arrest, prosecution and a fair trial process in the UK for these types of allegations makes this is a case of great international significance and a major step forward in bringing international criminal suspects to justice.

This case has provided a powerful demonstration of the need for Nepal to criminalise torture and enforced disappearances and to start conducting its own investigations and prosecutions.

Janak Raut said:

“I was forced to shout for help outside the country because I had no possibility to bring my alleged torturer to justice here in Nepal. I am disappointed with the decision not to re-prosecute Mr Lama. However, since he was arrested in the UK, the Government of Nepal has been advocating that Nepal will prosecute those involved in serious human rights violations in Nepal. I hope the Nepal Government will keep its promise of providing justice for those who have suffered during this conflict.”

For further background on the case please see this joint press release from Hickman & Rose and Advocacy Forum.

Paul Troop is a member of the Garden Court Crime and International teams.

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