Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans win UK torture ruling


The claimants, (l-r) Jane Muthoni Mara, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Paulo Muoka Nzili celebrated the news in Nairobi, Kenya

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Three Kenyans who were tortured by British colonial authorities can proceed with their legal claims against the UK government, a court has ruled.

London's High Court ruled the case, relating to the 1950s Mau Mau uprising, could proceed despite the time elapsed.

The ruling means the case will now go to a full trial. Lawyers for the three hailed it as a "historic" judgement.

The government accepts the colonial administration tortured detainees but denies liability and will appeal.

Thousands of people were killed during the Mau Mau revolt against British rule in Kenya in the 1950s and 1960s.

The government had initially argued that all liabilities for the torture by colonial authorities were transferred to the Kenyan Republic upon independence in 1963 and that it could not be held liable now.

Lawyer Martyn Day (l) and supporters of a group of Kenyans who allege abuse by British colonial authorities celebrate as they leave the High Court Lawyer Martyn Day (l) described the judgement as historic

But in 2011, the High Court ruled the claimants - Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara - did have "arguable cases in law".

Their lawyers allege that Mr Nzili was castrated, Mr Nyingi was severely beaten and Mrs Mara was subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion. A fourth claimant, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died earlier this year.

After the 2011 ruling, the case went back to the High Court in July to consider a claim by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that the actions had been brought outside the legal time limit. The FCO said it faced "irredeemable difficulties" in relation to the availability of witnesses and documents.

'Morally repugnant'

But on Friday, Mr Justice McCombe ruled the victims had established a proper case for the court to exercise its discretion and allowed their claims to proceed to trial.


As the news filtered through, several dozen elderly Kenyans erupted into cheers. They linked arms and danced through the grounds of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which has been supporting the claimants.

For them, and other veterans of the Mau Mau struggle, today's judgement was a significant victory.

But elsewhere in Kenya the case has received little attention. Only a handful of reporters from the Kenyan media turned up to cover the reaction from the veterans themselves.

There are historical reasons for this. Many of those who found themselves in power following independence in 1963 had previously been associated with the Home Guard: those who fought with the British colonial authorities against the Mau Mau rebels.

When independence came, many believed this chapter in Kenya's recent history would sow division rather than foster unity. The elderly veterans of that struggle are still fighting for recognition, both at home and abroad.

In his ruling, the judge said: "A fair trial for the Kenyans on this part of the case does remain possible and the evidence on both sides does remain significantly cogent for the court to complete its task satisfactorily."

A lawyer for the three said the claimants had not been in court because they were in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, but they were "absolutely delighted" when they learned of the result.

Martyn Day said lawyers would be pressing for a trial "as quickly as possible" but they would also be pushing for the government to reach an out-of-court settlement.

"This is a historic judgement which will reverberate around the world and will have repercussions for years to come," he said in a separate statement.

"The British government has admitted that these three Kenyans were brutally tortured by the British colony and yet they have been hiding behind technical legal defences for three years in order to avoid any legal responsibility. This was always morally repugnant and today the judge has also rejected these arguments."

He added: "Following this judgement we can but hope that our government will at last do the honourable thing and sit down and resolve these claims. 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."

Written evidence from the three Kenyans sheds light on their treatment at the hands of colonial forces:

  • Mr Nyingi, 84, a father of 16, said he was arrested in 1952 and detained for about nine years. In one incident in 1959 he said he was beaten unconscious and still bears marks from leg manacles, whipping and caning. "I have brought this case because I want the world to know about the years I have lost and what was taken from a generation of Kenyans, he said
  • Mr Nzili, 85, said he was stripped, chained and castrated shortly after being arrested in 1957. "I felt completely destroyed and without hope," he said
  • Ms Mara, 73, said she was 15 when she was raped at a detention camp. "I want the British citizens of today to know what their forefathers did to me and to so many others. These crimes cannot go unpunished and forgotten," she said
'Understand the pain'

A spokesman for the FCO said the judgement had "potentially significant and far-reaching legal implications".


  • The Mau Mau, a guerrilla group, began a violent campaign against white settlers in 1952
  • The uprising was eventually put down by the British colonial government
  • The Kenya Human Rights Commission says 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed
  • It says 160,000 people were detained in appalling conditions
  • Kenya gained independence in 1963

"The normal time limit for bringing a civil action is three to six years. In this case that period has been extended to over 50 years despite the fact that the key decision-makers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened," the spokesman said.

"Since this is an important legal issue, we have taken the decision to appeal. In light of the legal proceedings it would not be appropriate for the government to comment any further on the detail of the case."

The spokesman reiterated that the government did not dispute that each of the claimants suffered torture at the hands of colonial forces.

"We have always said that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the emergency period in Kenya, and it is right that those who feel they have a case are free to take it to the courts," he said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Maumau rebellion for those weak in history was derived due to atrocities of the British. It's for the sake of seeking independence from British rule that the movement was formed.
    it's easy to say for Kenyan government to take responsibilities but the awful truth is that the colonial rule had some incomprehensible atrocities that is as usual hidden from British media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Here we go, another feeding frenzy for the legal profession carried out in the glorious light of 20:20 hindsight!
    Will we ever have a government again that says "Sling your hook" the case is far too cold!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Why is the Kenyan case deserving but the others not?

    It's not a matter of 'deserving or not' it's a case of being a Nation with a sense of human decency that has grown with maturity as a democracy.

    It is not us who are shamed by our Law's acceptance of the wrongness of historic actions, it is the countries who deny their responsibility for similar, or even worse, crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.


  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Victims of torture by British agents should get no compensation?
    Should this apply generally where governments torture on the basis that others were doing it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Perhaps the US President can now sue because his Kenyan grandfather, a Mau Mau affiliate, was not held under 5 star conditions, whilst at the same time Mr Obama can resist court action by Vietnamese victims of US abuse in the 60s and 70s, and also resist court action by the descendants of slaves in the US who want reparations because the US government did not take timely action! Where will it end?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    This case isnt about justice, its about money. The compensation culture should be hacked down with a mau mau machette

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Does this mean that the descendants of the deceased who might have been involved are also going to be allowed to claim? Isn't it strange that we find ourselves prone to these 'out of time' claims from former dominions when our own citizens would be laughed at (at best) in those countries and we don't even allow our own citizens to pursue claims after this time.


  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    'Mau Mau militants were guilty of numerous atrocities. The most notorious was their attack on the settlement of Lari, on 25–26 March 1953. The attack was so extreme that "African policemen who saw the bodies of the victims . . . were physically sick and said 'These people are animals.'

    apologies for cut and paste. no compensation, get the message.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    it should not have happened but as the bottom line said it opens a whole can of worms which brits can't afford

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    How far back into history are we going to allow opportunist lawyers mug today's ordinary tax payers. We are total mugs in this country for being so weak and gullible. How much international aid are we committed too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.


    How about inventing the concentration camp in the boer war? how about the phrase 'dead line', know where that came from?
    Do you equate Hindus with Nazis for using a swastika ?

    Comparing the 1900 meaning of concentration camp with the 1945 meaning makes as much sense

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    How far back do you go? Eve ate the apple..... The Vikings pillaged and .... King Richard III crusaded..... Napoleon...... were does it stop. Isn't it about learning from mistakes and moving forward?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I'm eager to hear how they are going to prove this torture took place, or is it going to be a case of someone saying it did and the court rolling over and throwing a pile of money at them? Because this is what this is really all about, money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Its about time we stopped all of this nonsense, all countries did wrong things during the 'fog of war' , it is the nature of the beast, but it seems that only we as the soft hand wring apologists ever get beaten up for it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I take it that the victims of the mau mau can also claim damages for the atrocities perpetrated on countless people whose only crime was to have a different colour skin or have the same colour skin but work for the wrong people.
    No? thought not

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Good for them. Absolutely appalling case which by some small miracle has made it trial and highlights that the British legal system is one of the best in world if a little slow. Very brave men. Good luck to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I sincerely hope that he victims of these terrorists be they white or black are also going to sue. At least the ones that they didn't torture, machete and rape to death that is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Absolute disgrace, will the millions and millions of Jews be able to claim compensation against the Germans for the second world war, will the millions of Britain's who were touched and killed by the Japanese be able to claim off them?? no I don't think so..

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.


    How about 'get over it'

    We don't go asking the Italians to apologies for the atrocities the Romans committed on our lines. Neither do we ask the Norweigans and Swedes to apologies for the rape and pillaging the vikings did.

    At what point do we all say, "this is well and truly in the past and is now consigned to history". No more apologies, no more compensation, let's all move on.


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