British Kenyan 'torture' files 'guilty secret': report
Hidden documents about the British army's suppression of the 1950s Mau Mau uprising in Kenya were treated by officials as a "guilty secret", an internal review found Monday.
Four elderly Kenyans who claim they were tortured are taking legal proceedings against the former colonial power -- a move which triggered the investigation into hundreds of hidden files that were spirited out of Kenya just before independence in 1963.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague commissioned diplomat Anthony Cary to conduct an internal review to find out why the files had not been released.
Some 1,500 such files relate to the Mau Mau uprising, while there are 8,800 files which were transferred to London from Britain's colonies upon independence.
Cary, Britain's former high commissioner to Canada, said he found that some Foreign Office officials had chosen to "ignore" demands from the Kenyans' lawyers in 2005 and 2006 to make the files public.
That could be explained by a lack of documentation and misunderstandings about their importance "only up to a point", the ex-ambassador said.
"It was perhaps convenient to accept the assurances of predecessors that the migrated archives were administrative and/or ephemeral, and did not need to be consulted for the purposes of freedom of information requests, while also being conscious of the files as a sort of guilty secret, of uncertain status and in the 'too difficult' tray," he said.
He added: "We cannot turn a blind eye to any of our holdings."
Hague told parliament in a written statement Thursday that it was right for the files to be "properly examined" and made public subject to legal exemptions.
However, he warned that the task could take "some time" to complete given the size of the archive.
Last month, lawyers for the four Kenyans told the High Court in London their clients were subjected to "unspeakable acts of torture and abuse" at the hands of British officials, including castration and sexual abuse.
They are hoping their cases will secure a statement of regret from Britain over its response to the bloody rebellion against colonial rule, and the creation of a victims' welfare fund worth around £2 million ($3.3 million, 2.3 million euros).
The test case could open the door for claims from about one thousand other Kenyans who survived the detention camps during the revolt.
Following a two-week trial, the judge has reserved his decision, which is now expected in June or July.
The Foreign Office contends that it cannot be held liable, saying legal responsibility was transferred to the Nairobi government upon independence.
Daniel Leader, the Kenyans' lawyer, said it was now clear that the Foreign Office knew about the files "for a very long time".
"It's not just a case that they found them behind the sofa, it was their 'guilty secret'," he said.
"The Foreign Office chose to ignore a vast archive of highly sensitive documents when specific requests were made."
Leader said the report meant that if Britain is found liable, it cannot claim the case was being brought too late, as they withheld crucial files.
He added: "This could potentially lead to a wholesale change of our understanding of colonial history and that could have ramifications politically."
© 2011 AFP