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 113.

    When will the Iraq people take the USA to court over its crimes that started the complete ruin of that country?
    It that why the USA gets Afghans wrongly slaughtered by Americans to sign documents to accept peanuts compensation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    #98 (and others) Actually you should read up on the history of the British Empire. Rarely did we invade anywhere (not least because there are few of us & many of the other guy and machine guns weren't invented until the very late 1800s). For Egypt we were invited in by the Ottomans to administer on their behalf) Many other colonies we took off other European colonisers! (Spain & France normally)

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Bring back the British Empire!

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    mike T 77.
    If you have a living family survivor from that time he/she can sue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Guess who is will benefit most from this ruling??? Yet again the legal profession looks after it's own, Sheakespeare was right, "first let us kill all the lawyers". The main thing is to follow the money!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Surly the point is that torture is illegal and people that commit illegal acts should face the consequences of breaking the Law

    You can’t have one law for one group and not others, that’s discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Great news! Let everyone (British or Kenyan) who was affected sue. Whilst Britain is a lot tolerant nowadays, as a country, it was VERY exploitative in the past (colonialism, slavery etc). The truths of the past should not be thrown away, so we can learn from them in these days. Britain should compensate the Mau Mau...and learn to mind its business in the future!

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    No doubt the lawyers are delighted. These Kenyans were no doubt cruelly treated, but this court decision would seem to be opening the flood gates for many many more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Looking at the ignorant comments left by some people, may I remind you of the appalling history of invasion (Or 'settlement' as it is called) by the europeans on America, New Zealand, Australia, India, Africa, the list goes on. Know your history first pls, it's disgusting. You may ask why non indigenous people are here in Britain. Well why not, at least most immigrants are in the UK legally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Complete joke.

    Kenya needs to sort out its own internal problems over its crimes against humanity. Neighbours killing their neighbours children and presidential candidates going to trail over their abuse of human rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    This action is certainly wrong. After this length of time most of the documentation will have been destroyed and many of the witnesses dead. There is the difficulty of judging actions so long ago by today's standards.
    There is no comparison with other conflicts where compensation issues were dealt with shortly after.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    I spy, with my little eye.....LIBERALS! You can see 'em a mile off! They believe all men are created equal and that we should all hug each other daily! Wake up people! Where DO you think your pension funds are invested? Yes, you got it, in less well developed countries. And do you think they exploit those countries? Too bl**dy right we do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    These people who are carrying the placards were obviously in the Mau Mau and helped to carry out torture and murder on innocent victims.Our ex-service men and victims should start to sue these people for the pain they inflicted on them.Yet again,it is one sided so that political correctness is carried out.Why does this country always look at one side of the picture.Victims were on both sides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    70. jasminewok 

    Where shall we start Mongols came to Europe lets sue China ! Muslims where held a defeated at the Gate of Vienna lets sue all the Muslims. Romans ? yes lets sue the Italians.. The Moor ravished SW England & Ireland kidnapped whole towns for the Salve Trade lets sue Africa. Spain oh Yes and S America. lets Sue !!

    Dim witted Drivel !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Now that the Kenyans have been successful I think I might sue the Romans, Vikings, Normans, Palimentarians, etc, as I sure at least one of these groups either tortured, murdered, raped some of my ancesters. The Mau Mau butchered both whites and blacks during the uprising. Another set of PC Judges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    It is good to know that Great Britain is still as racist as ever. This year we celebrated the Queens Jubilee. What do you think this was built on? People around the world saying please rule my country? Enslave us, murder our women and children and take all our resources? I could go on and on but it would be a waste of time. Firstly GB were the invading country and had no right to be there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    68.Parish Spinster
    "These people should have to prove that they took no part in the murder, torture and other atrocities ..."

    And how, exactly, do you propose they prove a negative?

    Anyway, I think it's about time WE started suing for a few attrocities ourselves.

    The Romans must owe us a few bob in compensation (and interest), & the Vikings, and then the Normans, and......

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Mike T & Moggs, would that allow the indigenous Britts (Welsh, Cornish) too sue the English? Might they even ask for their land back?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    @mugs : The german government and people paid politically, financially, and morally for the atrocities commited by the Nazis, actually we pay compensation to Israel and Holocaust survivors to this day. That isn't the point, though. After WW2, there was judicial and especially historical accounting for what happend. I doubt british school children go through one year of colonialism in history class

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    These things happen in conflicts with rouge elements. It happening now. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Pakistan, Syria and even Israel. Retrospective "suing" seems to be one way, but who will get justice for the tortured innocents by the Taliban, or Khmer Rouge etc. The right way to deal with it is when it happens or soon after. Enforce robust laws at the time and let justice be seen to be done.


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