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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    It's quite incredible how many are saying it was too long ago, that the British did a lot of bad things back in the day but hey ho, forgive and forget eh? Not sure however that they'd have the same attitude if it were them or their loved ones that were tortured, raped etc. How easily people can disassociate themselves. Scary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Does this also allow those British people who where living in Kenya at that time to get compensation for having family members being killed, forced off their farmland or terrorised.

    Do they claim off the Kenya Government or these Mau Mau as a counterclaim in the courts?

    Let's also claim against the Zimbabwe Government for the same with their land grabbing actions.

  • Comment number 71.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    It might have escaped some people's notice but the Kenyans never asked the British to occupy them and they obviously didnt want them there. If the taxpayer has to pay for this now, its only because England reaped the rewards of the British Empire. Perhaps they will learn to stop bullying people if they are forced to pay for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    History is exactly that, history! We cannot be held to account for what people did years ago.In war, atrocities are committed and that's a terrible thing, but do we really need to keep paying out years later for acts committed by persons now deceased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    I remember the MauMau. Times were very different then.
    These people should have to prove that they took no part in the murder, torture and other atrocities carried out by their comrades before they get more than one penny in damages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    The ONLY reason this claim is going through is because British lawyers will be able to claim millions in fees.
    The Mau-Mau were not choir boys, they were not freedom fighters, read the unbiased accounts they were blood thirsty terrorists.
    Kenya is a corrupt country,(I have been there), any compensation would go into the wrong pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    It's time the British paid for bullying their way around the world. It doesnt make any difference what the nazis did, two wrongs dont make a right. They are still in denial of so many wrongs, and its time it was all made public and redress was made to the correct people.

  • Comment number 65.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Can we please find the Mau mau people who played football with white babies Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Firstly, it is not proven that these men were Mau Mau. What is proven is that the British did commit atrocities in Kenya. A reasonable timeline is where the victims are still alive. A little compensation would make their last years a little more comfortable (no one is talking millions). The integrity of the British justice system is what sets Britain apart from the rest of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    as allways soft british judges.
    no other countries are paying out claims i hope the lose

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It's interesting I was reading that story about how Britain is in such a good place right now in comparison to France and how we've come together and finally got over our colonial past and we're moving forward in glorious oneness etc.

    Then you come onto this story and the top rated comments are telling people to "get over" castration and rape committed by British troops. Very, very depressing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    i am guessing that the MAU MAU never tortured or killed any britishers. this legal action serves no purpose other than lawyers fees and will cost the tax payer a lot of money. how the full case can be heard is beyond me as many of the witnesses and those to be prosecuted are now dead. it is about time that judges are sacked. they seem to make judgments now to boost their own egos

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Contrast a UK national who tries to bring a claim even after say 7 years not 50! That is if he can even prove he has an "arguable case" which seems to depend on the prejudice and bias of the judge hearing the application.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    50 Jaz,

    Yes you are correct, the British have done bad things in the past. But, do we need the expense of a court case? Jaz, would you like to pay the costs of all this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Britain still has responsibilities relating to its colonial past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    If the victims are still alive when taking legal action, why should they not be entitled to justice? Their memories are still as real as any others, particularly if the body that was responsible (our government) is still around.

    Families of Irish victims got heard in court for the Bloody Sunday atrocities, so why not these colonised Kenyans? This is how a civilised society is suppose to work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    @41 Frank

    "Also: Tito Alba, no, not every western country committed atrocities"

    Please let me know which country you're thinking of. In fact forget the word western and inform me of any country in the world that you think doesnt have some dark past it doesnt want to bring up.

    Astonishingly ridiculous comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    History has a price but it does not include asking subsequent generations to accept monetary penalties for the actions of previous generations. On the basis of this ruling there is no reason why the descendants of Kenyans and other nationals who were tortured by the Mau Mau should not process compensation claims against the current Kenyan government given its historical origins.


Page 33 of 36


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.