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October 05, 2012

Court Rules Kenyans Can Sue Britain for Colonial-Era Abuses

by Jill Craig

Britain’s High Court today has ruled that three elderly Kenyans can sue the British government for compensation in response to colonial-era abuses suffered during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. The British government says it intends to appeal the ruling. 

Kenyans Paulo Nzili, Wambugu wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara, all now in their 70s and 80s, were granted permission by Britain’s High Court on Friday to pursue claims for compensation for torture carried out by the British colonial-era government.  A fourth claimant, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, has died since the legal action commenced.

While in British detention, the Kenyans say they underwent castration, rape and beatings during the so-called Kenyan “Emergency” of 1952 to 1960, when British forces and their Kenyan allies cracked down on Mau Mau guerillas fighting for land and freedom.

The Mau Mau fighters were attacking British targets, panicking settlers and worrying the British government.

At least 10,000 people died during the so-called Emergency, with some sources citing much higher figures. Tens of thousands of Kenyans, many unconnected to the Mau Mau movement, were held in detention camps.  

Gitu Wa Kahengeri, spokesman of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association, was in London for the hearing.  He was pleased by the court’s decision.

"It's a great day for the Mau Mau war veterans association, heroes organization, that took the case to England for compensation.  Don't forget that the British colonial association did a great deal of atrocities to the people of Kenya," Kahengeri explained. "When they administered our country without our consent."

The British Foreign Office today released a statement of dissatisfaction with the verdict.  It emphasized that the judgment was “not a finding of liability but rather, a procedural decision following a preliminary hearing on limitation, which allows the cases to go to a full trial.”

The statement acknowledged “the claimants in this case suffered torture and other ill treatment at the hands of the Colonial Administration,” but also recognized that “it is right that those who feel they have a case are free to take it to the courts.”

The Mau Mau War Veterans Association is anxious for compensation to be paid.

"Now that we have defeated them in this case, we want them to pay us compensation and indeed to apologize to the people of Kenya and indeed the people they imprisoned, put in the detention for seven years, losing a generation," said Kahengeri.

Citing far-reaching legal implications, the British government intends to appeal.  It says that the normal time limit for bringing a civil action is three to six years but in this case, the period has been extended to over 50 years and key witnesses are dead and unable to share their account of the events.

This verdict will likely encourage other claimants of torture worldwide from the colonial period to bring forth their own cases.