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 93.

    The Mau mau where/are murderers. The lawyers will have a field day !

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    What chance has any British/American or European person got to get compensation for the crimes committed by African States and/or their agents?
    Why not just post the Crown Jewels to Africa and move its population all into Buckingham Palace?

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Blimey at this rate we will be paying compensation to the French over Agincourt, We must have the most daft judges in the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Claims that "this is old news" and "is all about money" is a shameful reflection of the British mentality,we will NEVER show decency and respect to the rest of the world. Those ignorant enough to believe we have nothing to do with the problems overseas because we "gave them independence" are the DailyMail's target readers. Britain has a shameful past - 'Rule Britannia'...URGH.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    To get an idea of the level of souless people in England simply click on (highest rated) and start reading... And their excuse for allowing torture is because they torture British people, well maybe if we didn't try to steal their resources and try to install puppet government then they wouldn't hate us so much.... There is an idea

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    This case will surely help the UK in a time of 'austerity measures' and is yet another expense to the country due to foreigners. Cultural Enrichment? If it can be made unquestionably clear in advance, that any ruling in their favour can only result in the "closure" they will be talking about, but absolutely no monetary settlement as any possible 'true' victims are dead - then so will this case be!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    otrg asked:
    "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?"
    Answer: Not a chance. But I lived in Kenya during the Mau Mau and contrary to current politically correct memories know that many atrocities were committed against British people by the Mau Mau.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    It doesn't happen often but I'm in agreement with The-Moog. Racism is treating one group of people differently to another based solely on their colour/creed etc. If Mau-Mau's tortured by the British can sue us surely victims of the Mau-Mau's (hacked up with machetes or burnt usually) should be allowed to sue the Kenyans?

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Mike T,you beat me to it. How about about a joint claim against Italy and Norway.Actually,forget Italy,they are skint,but Norway,wow. We could make a real dent in their oil revenues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Ah now we have it. President Obama ancestors were affilates of the then Mau-Mau. This has nothing to do with Kenya or torture but it is because the USA have stuck their oar in. Whoopee democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    @76.Mangesh,if the british are such an evil race why do so many come to this country to sponge off the welfare state?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    It's OK to be a Nazi hunter - because were told that time should not matter when crimes are so terrible - people should be held to account.

    Put the shoe on the other foot, "It was a long time ago", "history is history", "why should we pay out now.....?"

    The only thing that never changes is the arrogance and the attitude of the British. I wish these people well in their fight for justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    This is one case where what happened can in some small way be compensated for as those involved are still alive and Fair Play dictates that the claimants should be given their day and their cases allowed to stand or fall on the merits. This is commonsense and can at least change the lives of those involved. Anything to do with Hillsborough cant do that.

  • Comment number 80.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    The photograph say's it all... we stand with the Mau Mau etc, etc,

    What's good for the goose should also be good for the gander. Those of us, who suffered horrifically during the same period, should also have the legal right to sue for compensation. Two wrongs don't make a right, but one right can make too many wrongs. Perhaps we - British Government - should appeal to the Court of Human Rights?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    What is unacceptable ( IMHO), is that the UK effectively condones the US in the ongoing torture of uncharged suspects of terrorism in Guantanamo Bay.

    The UK fails to exert any pressure on the US, whilst it jumps up and down when middle-eastern states, N Korea and Burma engage in torture.

    One rule for them and one for the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I demand the vikings, romans and anyone else that has invaded us pay us compensation. That woman from the Congo has a lot to answer for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Inflicting torture a new thing in British colonies you think? Historically, thousands of natives were killed and tortured by the British in an attempt to keep the ''glorious rule of the queen'' alive as well as in wars. Most of the readers with top rated comments have not seen any torture and humiliation of human rights. Sorry story for human rights!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I lost my job as a direct result of government cut backs, and really struggled to make ends meet for quite some time.

    Do I have a case?

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    How long before all the UK's money is gone? More money off the sick to pay other countries maybe?


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