Kenyans can sue UK over colonial-era torture

Three elderly Kenyans tortured by British colonial forces were given the green light to sue.

A Kenyan flag. Picture: AFP

LONDON - Three elderly Kenyans tortured by British colonial forces were told they can sue Britain, in a London court judgment likely to encourage other claims dating back to the days of the British Empire.

The government, which had tried for three years to block their legal action, said on Friday it was disappointed and planned to appeal.

Paulo Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, who is about 73, suffered castration, rape and beatings while in detention in the 1950s during a crackdown by British forces and their Kenyan allies on the Mau Mau movement fighting for land and freedom.

The trio want Britain to apologise and to fund welfare benefits for Kenyan victims of torture by colonial forces. They were not in court to hear the ruling but were expected to speak at a news conference in Nairobi later.

Their supporters hugged each other and wept for joy in London's neo-Gothic Royal Courts of Justice after judge Richard McCombe handed down his judgment.

"I have reached the conclusion ... that a fair trial on this part of the case does remain possible and that the evidence on both sides remains significantly cogent for the court to complete its task satisfactorily," his judgment said.

The government had first said that responsibility for events during the Mau Mau uprising passed to Kenya upon its independence in 1963. McCombe rejected that argument in 2011.

The government then said the claim was brought long after the legal time limit. McCombe said in Friday's judgment there was ample documentary evidence to make a fair trial possible.

"The government and the military commanders seem to have been meticulous record-keepers," he said.

Martyn Day, a lawyer representing the claimants, said the government should stop using legal technicalities to fight the case and, instead, negotiate a settlement as soon as possible as the claimants were frail and elderly.

"There will undoubtedly be victims of colonial torture from Malaya to the Yemen, from Cyprus to Palestine, who will be reading this judgement with great care," he said.


"We do not dispute that each of the claimants in this case suffered torture and other ill treatment at the hands of the Colonial Administration," the Foreign Office said, adding it would appeal nevertheless, as the judgement could have far-reaching legal implications.

Nzili, forced to join the Mau Mau in 1957 and who left the movement six months later, was arrested on his way home. He was castrated while in detention at Embakasi camp.

Nyingi, never a member of Mau Mau, was arrested in 1952 and spent nine years in detention without charge. He suffered several severe beatings, including on one occasion when 11 detainees were beaten to death and he was so badly injured he was left for dead in a pile of corpses for three days.

Mara, then a girl of about 15, suffered sexual abuse including rape using a soda bottle full of boiling water.

These events took place during the so-called Kenyan "Emergency" of 1952-61, during which fighters from the Mau Mau movement attacked British targets, causing panic among white settlers and alarming the government in London.

Tens of thousands of rebels were killed by colonial forces and an estimated 150,000 Kenyans, many of them unconnected to the Mau Mau, were held in detention camps likened by a leading historian of the period to Soviet gulag labour camps.