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 133.

    Whoa !
    So many comments from people who couldn't care less about past actions.

    Then there's no need to harp on about Hillsborough, or have state apologies about British actions in N Ireland

    If you transpose the same thinking to individuals past actions, then why chase criminals at all ?- its all in the past, so give each criminal a new slate after each crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Mau Mau massacred 2000 of their fellow africans (with many more missing), hacking some of them down and throwing men women and children into burning huts.
    This is a sad event in history on both sides which we have learnt many lessons by as a civilised nation.
    Is this about money? if so I am sure there are many africans who believe the Mau Mau owe them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    How quick people are to jump on the Bash Brittan band wagon.
    Everyone seems to forget the good the Empire did, the wars it stopped and the people it brought together.
    And how many of these people seem to forget that it was the British Empire - England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, why is the English always get the blame?

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    This would be ok.... If there were reciprocal court cases. What about the Kenyans who were tortured/murdered by the Mao Mao? In South Africa, under Mandela, they let bygones be bygones to prevent further hatred. But, he was black and could do that - whites aren't allowed

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    From reading the comments posted on this site, it is obvious the empire is still alive and kicking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Wow, so much hate here!. Britain invaded Kenya, that in itself is a crime that no one paid. The people affected by that war are still alive and I find it very impressive and sad that there is people here saying that their voices should not be heard. Britain really needs to bury these colonial ideas and understand that they are no better (or worse) than the rest of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Have to agree with

    "67.Peter Buck

    "The ONLY reason this claim is going through is because British lawyers will be able to claim millions in fees..."

    If these people can prove they were NOT involved in Mau Mau atrocities then fair enough, but let's be clear, if they win it should not open a floodgate of spurious claims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    This is crazy.

    It seems to me that at every turn our judiciary are stretching laws to fit claims that would have been summarily dismissed in the past as ridiculous.

    No doubt we are labouring under a lot of judges promoted under the last Labour government.

    The wings of the judiciary need clipping

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Does no one remember what the Mau Mau did? There was a reason they were imprisoned during the uprising.

    They shouldn't have been tortured like that but it doesn't make Britain wrong for cracking down on people who were butchering their neighbours and setting them alight.

    A Prime example of 'Empire Guilt' Which shouldn't exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    and how should those who were murdered/mutilated by the Mau Mau get legal redress? Who do they sue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    It's true the Mau Maus killed a lot of people, but they were nearly all Kenyans. During the eight year emergency only 32 white people died, compared to 25000 Kenyans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    If Britain is going to maintain global credibility as a leading nation in ethics, to condemn, and intervene in certain cases like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya on humanitarian grounds and to recommend direct action in Syria, then it has to be whiter than white, and atone for its own previous sins. In these dreadful cases, it is case weakening to shift blame, and wiggle out of it using legal means.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    105. JM 

    Very flawed and Ignorant comment , we are told we all come from Africa so that must be the first invasion and land grab ! 2 / are most here legally ? or even with the blessing of the indigenous population ? if not where can we claim redress ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Eventually truth shall prevail, may take years but this thing called power has to be tamed, if you use your powerful position to torture and rule against the wish of the majority of people just because of your belief that your ways are more civilized or productive to exploit, then I guess we cannot blame lawyers, somethings need to be kept in check!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    where is the balance in the editors picks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    I don't understand a lot of the comments on here. If the people were tortured by the UK forces, then it is their right to get compensation. The UK tried to have a fair legal system - the fact that other smaller nations do not have the UK legal system, is not the fault of the population.

    This is not about being liberal, it's about being human.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Hey guys, lets not forget the Romans!!! and I feel there might be a very good case for a very famous person who was tortured and killed a little over 2000 years ago!! Are there any family menbers out there???
    I feel these are two very good cases that should be put to rights. Where will it all end??

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Too many people are proud of the Empire, but yet they wont take the responsibility of the murders, crimes and theft which was done in the Crown's/government's name. The crimes that was done under the Empire I would make Hitler look like a saint.
    No Kenyan asked the British to rule them or invited them

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Its all very well saying well done on this victory, but remember who will be paying for any compensation, all of taxpayers that is who.

    While I think what happened was dreadful, it was many years ago and we have all moved on. Does this now mean that anyone who has been the victim of Governments passed can now sue? This does set a precedent now, one which is now a very slippery slope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The British Empire owes a fair bit to all of its colonies. My Maori Ancestors were very brutally treated. Only a couple of hundred years ago.


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