The Curious Case of Colonel Kumar Lama: Its Origins and Impact in Nepal and the United Kingdom, and Its Contribution to the Discourse on Universal Jurisdiction

53 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2018

See all articles by Sneha Shrestha

Sneha Shrestha

King’s College London, Dickson Poon School of Law, Students

Date Written: September 1, 2017


This paper, in essence, is a case study of Colonel Kumar Lama, marking almost a year since his acquittal, 6 September 2016. The prosecution for alleged acts of torture committed in Nepal was brought in the UK courts, under universal jurisdiction, against Kumar Lama: a Nepalese army officer. However, Lama was acquitted due to a hung jury and the Crown Prosecution Services' decision not to retry the case. The case thus far has not been the subject of detailed academic study, perhaps due to the lack of information available in public as the trial transcript is not published. Nonetheless, it represents one of the few instances of the use of this jurisdictional basis before the UK courts; its analysis will therefore provide important insights into the practical limits of universal jurisdiction. The present work adopts a socio-legal approach in uncovering the origins of the Lama case and exploring its diverse effects in Nepal and the UK. This in turn facilitates a discussion of its wide-ranging contribution to the discourse on universal jurisdiction. The empirical research undertaken, semi-structured interviews, allows this paper to communicate valuable opinions gathered from those involved in the case, organisations and lawyers, as well as high-ranking state officials and army officers in Nepal with thought-provoking perspectives on the impact achieved by this case.

The case had more to it than meets the eye. If one goes on media reports only, a certain opinion would be reached. A deeper analysis of the case revealed a different conclusion. This research discovered that the Lama case played a vital role in raising awareness in Nepal and triggered legal and practical responses towards strengthening its transitional justice process. Above all, it allowed the victims' painful stories to be heard which reawakened their hope towards justice. The case also revealed the strategy behind the litigation in the UK and the practical hurdles encountered, which helped construct informed suggestions, such as creating specialised units, for more effective litigation of universal jurisdiction cases in the future. An important line of criticism of international law was deduced from some interviews in Nepal, backed up by scholarly critique, which contributes to the bigger picture of comprehending universal jurisdiction in practice. Overall, the current developments and the practical improvements identified indicates a relatively positive future direction of universal jurisdiction as a tool to ensure accountability for international crimes. A reflection on its landmark cases revealed that it takes decades of perseverance by transnational actors globally for such cases to succeed in court. This leads the paper to conclude that while universal jurisdiction may be a commendable legal principle, it is often overwhelmed by practical and political interruptions which need to be tackled carefully and collectively.

Keywords: Universal Jurisdiction, Transnational Law, International Criminal Law, Kumar Lama, Torture case, Colonel Lama, Nepal, the United Kingdom, Origins and Impact, Third World Approaches to International Law, TWAIL, Empirical Research, Case Study, Socio-legal Study

Suggested Citation

Shrestha, Sneha, The Curious Case of Colonel Kumar Lama: Its Origins and Impact in Nepal and the United Kingdom, and Its Contribution to the Discourse on Universal Jurisdiction (September 1, 2017). TLI Think! Paper 2/2018. Available at SSRN: or

Sneha Shrestha (Contact Author)

King’s College London, Dickson Poon School of Law, Students ( email )

United Kingdom

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