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 53.

    I wonder if in 50 years time the people of Iraq and Afghanistan win the right to take legal action for abuses carried out by the British authorities/military. There should never be a time limit on crimes against humanity, particularly when carried out by military powers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    1.the-moog - ".....By all accounts the Kenyans were pretty good at Torture themselves, can British victims sue?"

    No idea, ask a Kenyan lawyer - but the UK Govt (changes of party notwithstanding) has continued unbroken, I believe (but am not absolutelt sure) that the current Kenyan Govt cannot in any be traced back to the Mau Maus......ergo no liability on today's Kenyan Govt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I agree with far in in history do you go back.Countless atrocities are comitted on both sides in war, conflicts. Next we will have Argentinians demanding compensation for the Falklands war,when it was their goverment who sent these young conscripted men to their deaths.If the Japanese and German goverment paid for all their attrocities and indeed the UK we would all be Bankrupt.Oh we R

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    There is a catalogue of torture and killings in Kenya in the hands of British Imperialist forces. The full details can be read in a book by Mark Curtis "Web of Deceit". I agree with some comments that injustices and torture by Kenyan authorities against their own people should also be highlighted but this does not negate the fact that the British Forces did henious crimes in Keynia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Must say that it's shrewd business only now accepting claims. May have saved the British establishment a fair bit of money.

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Rewriting history is nearly always a mistake. These were different times with different values that we now recognise as wrong. The 'offenders' are not around to give evidence of what happened - including the reasons these particular individuals were in custody. I assume they were at least suspected of involvement in what was going on at the time. We learn from history not rewrite it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    More money for lawyers. I hope the taxpayer is not paying the costs on this

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I agree, they should just get over it, move on and stop wasting our money on the legal fees and support. This whole system needs to be stopped. Crimes were committed too many years ago, most people regret the crimes, the crimes were from both sides, UK government aid to Africa in the last 60 years is far more than any compensation anyone should expect. If we all say sorry, that should be the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Will Germany pay for all the killed WWII ?

    How come the UK has to pay for past mistakes, while other countries can forget about theirs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Obviously Britain should not be held responsible JUST because they tortured them. That's ludicrous! The responsibility should switch to the Kenyans. When those lovely Nazis graciously handed back all those countries after WWII - then the responsibility for any terrible deeds done switches to the new countries' governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Its about time that this country started to accept its place in the world

    One that had an enlightened past, was of great benefit to mankind and introduced the rule of law throughout the world. Evan as a bastion of free speech.

    But one that also includes the invention of the concentration camp, the , state sponsored terrorism and the severe repression of those we wanted to "improve"

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The british committed appalling atrocities in every country they raped and occupied. The attitude of posters here shows us the mindset has not improved . Also: Tito Alba, no, not every western country committed atrocities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I wonder where the victims of torture by the Mau Mau will go to claim compensation? Perhaps they could sue the British Government for not dealing with the terrorists more effectively...

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    So will Kenya accept the crimes committed against British civilians, and offer them and their families compensation on the scale our justice system has already decided to pay out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Can’t condone the atrocities in any way but:

    a) Why should later generations be held to account for events that occured in places they’ve never been, involving people they’ve never met, during a time when they hadn’t been born?

    b) How are we getting on with our reciprocal court case against the Mau Mau?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    These were Kenyans tortured by other Kenyans, albeit under the control of the British Colonial administration. Nothing has changed, they are still doing it...why should my country pay for the barbaric behaviour of Kenyans towards their fellow countrymen 50 years ago. What next? A claim against the Roman Empire?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Who will condemn and when, the present day Kenyan's for unrest, death and torture?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    dre169 wrote "how about the phrase 'dead line', know where that came from?"

    Well 'deadline' is from the American Civil War.

    Ridiculous that the Mau Mau are being permitted to claim for hardship when there is no reciprocal right for their victims. My Mom knew a woman who had seen her children hacked to death by those animals. Clearly British torture is poor as these vermin were allowed to live

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Why so late in bringing the case? It's almost as farcical as bringing a case against Jimmy Saville. Let's all bring a case against Edward VIII (sorry, The Duke of Windsor) for failing in his duty? Or even further back and bring an international case against Napoleon!! Come on, people- we've paid enough compensation to unwarranted claims- get a life, judges & throw these inane cases out of court!


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