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 153.

    This is a ridiculous state of affairs , can we ask Germany and Japan for compensation ....... should we be paying out for any event this country has been involved in for the last 50 , 100 , 200 , 500 , 1000 years ? A line has to be drawn somewhere .

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    On Panorama we learned that the government has issued a ruling on the quiet that ANY immigrant or UK visitor, illegal or not, 'entitled' or not, is to have free GP treatment.
    Now we learn that our judiciary are now to sanction no doubt millions for events which took place in a context of their time 50 years ago.
    Are there no limits to the obligations of ordinary British taxpayers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    If Britain feels it is ok to heap blame for our appalling behaviour in the 1950`s back on to Kenya and then duck responsibility, then why do we have war trials?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    121. Socialist Apocalypse The Thieves Amongst Us

    It that your justification? You know nothing unfortunately. Get real.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    141. Socialist Apocalypse The Thieves Amongst Us

    Just waiting for the Spanish/French then we will be on-it..


    We just to lead the world, now we wait? Jeez.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Evil British imperial colonialism partially punished at last. Oh how I love the smell of justice on a Friday morning. Now all we need is for victims of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and all the descendants of horrific colonialism (myself included) to be compensated, and I will die a happier man. Easy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    My father was killed and mutilated by the Mau Mau. Where the hell do I get to sue? Is Britain the only country in the world that is supposed to be on its best behaviour at all times. It makes me sick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Similar to the current habit of telling people to move on, living in the past self help etc. Belief in redemption is one thing atonement for past/present atrocities another. Importantly, admission and recognition of what the state did in our name is vital for this and future generations if we are to stop the us and them divide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    We know that there were atrocities on both sides ,but UK governments have repeatedly said that war criminals should never get away with their crimes.Now the boot is on the other foot,and it is disgraceful that UK officialdom has tried to wash its hands of this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Eelam Tamils have to sue the UK government that handed over Eelam to the Sinhala Buddhist Apartheid leaders with a mockery constitution that led to the sufferings of the Tamils including mass murders, rape and crimes against humanity.
    British Colonialism is responsible for the sufferings and loss of freedom and human rights in Eelam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    As British Law is presided over by the European courts does any legal prescient from this outcome open the flood gates against the Former Belgium, French, German, Portugese, Spanish and Dutch (have i missed any) former colonists. Or is just the British once again to demonised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    136. zergon
    Bearing in mind how vicious the Mau Mau were themselves to civilians, do we sue the Kenyan government on their behalf. ?
    If you really care that much, maybe you should.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    128. Gabriel Rodriguez 
    Britain really needs to bury these colonial ideas and understand that they are no better (or worse) than the rest of the world.

    Just waiting for the Spanish/French then we will be on-it..

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Thank you 66! The English is the Corrupted mind ever Twist everything just to suit them Hate arrogance ignorance controlling others by all means This is how they see the modern & civil Bullies tortures thieves Mediums engaged cameras, monitoring of everything procedures must look & named professional? They do not change because they bully their children to be managers teachers lectures policemen

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    I wonder if the time, 12 in the afternoon on a Friday, has anything to do with the tone of these comments. A lot of relics from a by-gone era sitting at home taking a break from murder she wrote to sweat about the possibility of the things they used to do to the natives coming to light?

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    If you deal with barbarians, you end up acting like them. Maybe the UK should not have bothered bringing civilisation to these countries - we never get any thanks and longer-term we have ended up paying many times over for what little benefit we got.

    There is no excuse for torture, and if we can't "win" without using it we should pull out - and have nothing more to do with these countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    I'm quite appalled how many people are against this ruling. This couldn't have anything to do with the fact that they are Kenyan, could it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Bearing in mind how vicious the Mau Mau were themselves to civilians, do we sue the Kenyan government on their behalf. ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    I hope the many "Kenyan Asians" forced to flee Kenya in the 1960s are looking to sue the Kenyan Government for their losses and inhuman treatment. Let's see how far they would get in the Kenyan Court system!

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    My grandpa was a mau mau fighter and a mason who could write and speak english, kiswahili & kikuyu. He lost land to caucasian settlers who were trying to turn kenya into colonial zimbabwe hence he joined the rebellion. These caucasian "elites" & their african cronies are now selling the lands that their grandparents stole to the grandchildren of the kenyans, most likely the precolonial landowners.


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