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 313.

    285. tonep
    Germany refuses to pay for the genocide of the Herero and Namaqua , Britain should refuse to pay for the Mau Mau.
    Why? I thought we were better people than the Germans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    305 "I'm an Afro-Hispanic Black, however did I get to the US?"

    Green card?

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    If left unchecked no doubt the next extension of law our judiciary will come up with is compensating Rwandans for not intervening in their genocide.

    An outrageous idea ? Really. Who knows with our judicial interpretation of human rights. Who would have thought we would be compensating illegal immigrants, murderers or letting hi-jackers claim asylum.

    Judicial interpretation gone wild.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    There are no time limitations for war crimes or crimes against humanity. If the complainants are alive, the case can continue. The descendants of those commiting such crimes cannot be held liable, but succeding governments can. Would you have it any other way?

  • Comment number 309.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    If these victims wanted to find their torturers and have them punished that would be sensible. This is just an attempt to scrounge some money.

    There is also a deafening silence about the Mau Mau compensating their victims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    It’s frightening to see the comments here which seem to perpetuate deluded claims of moral superiority of the British even when faced with cold undisputed facts of the atrocities committed and covered up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    Will the settlers who were tortured by the mau mau be able to sue as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    This is such a load of Brit Malarkey!!! I mean you rape a countries resources and people for 200 years of their austerity and don't expect them to be pissed? Then walk away with all the profits from resources and say we're not responsible for over 200 years of oppression by our Government. The nerve of the Brits and the Spaniards. I'm an Afro-Hispanic Black, however did I get to the US?

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    148. PaulMersonsBluePen
    Germany and all the descendants of horrific colonialism (myself included) to be compensated,

    Germany? Are you sure? Who colonised them? You might like the smell of justice on a friday but I can smell something else coming from you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    I take it Britain will now stop giving aid to Kenya and all the other freeloaders in Africa and Asia we finance at the expense of our own people. Or will they at least deduct the slush money from the aid and give it straight to the lawyers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    156. NaSporran
    We go into Afganistan and Iraq saying we need to instal democracy and overthrow evil torturing dictators, then use drones to kill civilians.
    When it comes to imperailist

    So should we not of interfered with the genocide in THE BALKANS or Rwanda then NaSporran. When i speak to Bosnians living in the UK they are truly grateful to the US for there intervention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    I have it on sound historical oral evidence that in 123AD Roman General Biggus Dickus did abuse and violate my ancestors.

    I shall now be making a legal claim against the city of Rome for compensation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    If we're still chasing after Nazis then it's right that these men deserve justice too. If it's possible to track down the perpetrators of these crimes then we should do so. Justice for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    To those who are trying to justify what happened during colonial times, it is not possible. It was simply unjustifiable in anyway for any one who considers himself any where civilised.

    The bottom line is does UK Govt wants to pay? No, if they did, they would have to pay up a lot and all benefits accrued due to colonial rules would be lost in a second. Hence, all these justifications!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    Wasn't a certain President's grandfather tortured under the same circumstances, hence getting rid of Churchill's bust from the whitehouse? I'd hate to think this was in any way related to US-UK relations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    13. dre169
    11. Tyto alba

    'Current African atrocities dwarf anything we did as a colonial power'

    How about inventing the concentration camp in the boer war?"

    We didn't invent it during the Boer War (1899-1902). America used them against natives in the 1830's, 70 years prior, and Spain in Cuba in 1868-1878.

    Britain absolutely didn't invent them. A minute's research would have told you that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Perhaps Martyn Day might look into getting compensation for the families of those hacked to bits by the Mau Mau.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    "Three Kenyans who were tortured by British colonial authorities can proceed with their legal claims against the UK government, a court has ruled.".

    That should read: "Three Kenyans who [claim they] were tortured by British colonial authorities....". Not were. You need to prove it first, and the BBC needs to report accurately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Britain did NOT invade Kenya


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