Kenyans seek compensation over British 'torture'

7th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Four elderly Kenyans who say they were tortured during the British army's suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s and 1960s on Thursday began legal proceedings to secure compensation.

Lawyers for the group told the High Court in London they 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.

The test case could open the door for claims from about one thousand other Kenyans who survived the detention camps during the revolt.

"The treatment they endured has left them all with devastating and lifelong injuries," lawyer Martyn Day said before the case started.

"There is no doubt that endemic torture occurred in Kenya before independence."

The Foreign Office contends that Britain is not legally liable because the Kenyan government succeeded the colonial administration upon independence in 1963.

The hearing, which is expected to last two weeks, is the culmination of an eight-year legal battle.

Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 83 this year, is one of the four claimants who have travelled from Kenya, along with Jane Muthoni, Paulo Nzili and Ndiku Mutua, who are all in their 70s and 80s. Nzili says he was beaten and castrated by a policeman.

Nyingi said he was detained without charge for nine years, subjected to forced labour and beaten daily with sticks.

He said he survived a massacre at the British-run Hola Camp, lying unconscious for three days alongside 11 people who were killed.

"I suffered physical violence on my head, on my legs, I still have the scars today because of the beatings from the colonial administrators," he told AFP.

Though a member of the Kenya African Union (KAU) party, which advocated independence, he said he did not join the violent Mau Mau rebellion.

Nyingi said he believed Britain would meet "international norms" and "correct those injustices".

"I am here to get justice for the many of my colleagues who have since died, and others who are still alive but living in abject poverty because of the injustices that were committed by the British colonial government," he said.

"It's their responsibility to own up and pay us back now, compensate us, so that when I die, I do not have to keep telling my grandchildren of the injustices that were done.

"I need justice so that I can die a happy man."

The claims are supported by the Kenyan government.

As a result of the case being brought, Britain is releasing 2,000 boxes of secret files from its former colonies, including about 30 on the Mau Mau uprising which were spirited out of Kenya just before independence.

That has led to suggestions that London could also face fresh claims from other former colonial administrations, such as Nigeria, Cyprus and Palestine.

More than 10,000 people were killed during the 1952-1960 Mau Mau violence, according to an official Kenyan report in 1961.

Tens of thousands were detained, including US President Barack Obama's grandfather.

Lawyers say the cases could not have been brought earlier because of the lengthy research to piece together evidence, while the Mau Mau had been a taboo subject in Kenya until recent years.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the revolt "remains a deeply divisive issue within Kenya" and "caused a great deal of pain for many on all sides".

However, she added: "The UK intends to fully defend these cases.

"The UK government is not transferring responsibility to the government of Kenya for dealing with the allegations; we are simply stating that under the law, Her Majesty's government cannot be held liable in this case."

© 2011 AFP

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