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UN no to diplomatic immunity for Nepalese colonel
Publication Date : 11-01-2013
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will not grant Nepal Army Col Kumar Lama any diplomatic immunity as a UN peacekeeper, according to a senior UN official.
Lama is currently in police custody in the UK on charges of two counts of torture committed in Kapilvastu during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.
The senior Nepal Army officer, who was serving as an expert in the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), was arrested from St Leonard’s-on-sea near Hastings while visiting his family.
The UN decision follows the Nepal government’s efforts to secure Lama’s release, claiming that he was serving in a UN mission at the time of his arrest.
Ban waived Lama’s immunity from personal arrest and detention, partly because the alleged crimes had taken place long before he joined UNMISS.
“In light of the facts of this case, the Secretary-General has determined that the Colonel does not enjoy immunity from legal process in respect to the alleged acts, which do not relate to the performance of his official functions as an expert on mission, and indeed are alleged to have taken place long before he joined UN MISS,” Kieran Dwyer, spokesperson of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, told the Post in an email from New York.
Experts on UN mission are entitled to immunity from legal process for comments, both spoken or written, and acts committed during the course of the mission, and immunity from personal arrest or detention under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. Such immunities can be waived if the facts warrant it, according to the convention.
Meanwhile, in Kathmandu, the ministry of foreign affairs held high-level discussions to prepare a strategy to secure Lama’s release.
A discussion organised by Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha was attended by acting Army chief, the chief secretary, the attorney general and the secretaries of the law, foreign and defence ministries.
“We are preparing a position paper to defend Lama in the British court,” said a participant at the talks. The next hearing for the case is scheduled for January 24 in the UK.
Who is Col Lama?
Col Kumar Lama, 46, is known inside the Nepal Army as an officer with a repeated history of failures in executing command responsibilities. He faced departmental action while serving as a company commander in Bajhang in 2002 and at the Gorusinghe barracks in Kapilvastu in 2005.
An Army deserter, who reportedly wished to return, was not allowed to rejoin the barracks by the force under Lama’s command in Bajhang. Subsequently, the deserter was killed by Maoist rebels on his way back home in the Far West region, for which the then Maj Lama “lost seniority”.
While commanding the barracks in Gorusinghe, then Lt Col Lama was accused of misplacing weapons belonging to the Shivadal Battalion. His promotion was halted for 15 months after the Kapilvastu district court in 2008 convicted him of torture.
According to NA officials, around a dozen lieutenant colonels junior to Lama were promoted as colonels after he faced action. When he left for the UK after the political change of 2006, Lama had almost given up his service in the Army.
“At the time of leaving for the UK, he had made up his mind to quit the job,” said one of Lama’s counterparts at the Army Headquarters.
“I think he continued with the job after completing his studies because he received choice postings.” Lt Col Lama, upon his return from the UK, was made commander of the Bhairav Nath Battalion based in Nagarjun, Kathmandu, a rare appointment for someone whose command had come under question twice.
He was then transferred to the disaster unit under the Director General of Military Operations at the Army Headquarters in 2011 and subsequently promoted to the rank of colonel.
Colleagues said Lama used to visit his wife Laxmi, who is working as a staff nurse in the UK for the past 14 years, on a regular basis. The family bought their Sussex house in 2004 and his wife was granted UK citizenship in 2007.
In 2008, Col Lama applied for and was given indefinite rights to remain in the UK. This status does not make him a UK citizen but an effective resident.
“Many Nepal Army officers whose wives work as staff nurses in the UK have applied and received rights to remain in the UK. Serving officers do not apply for citizenship or marry a foreign woman as they will lose their job for that,” said a general at the Army HQ.
Lama lived with his family and completed a Masters in International Relations from the University of Sussex in 2007-2009. Of his two daughters, a 21-year-old is studying at the University College London and a 17-year-old is an A-Level student in the UK.
He was recruited as a combat engineer in the 25th basics of the then Royal Nepal Army in 1986. Col Lama previously served as a UN peacekeeper in Sierra Leone in 2001 and twice in Lebanon in 1991 and 1996.