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 333.

    "Quo Vadis
    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."

    We are still hunting down individual Nazis in order to prosecute them for their crimes, but we're not seeking financial compensation from them, nor are we asking the German government for money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Britain has a shameful past - 'Rule Britannia'...URGH

    Just remember who gave Kenya the legal system and education infrastructure that enabled these people to sue us the current British taxpayer.
    All countries have a shameful past at some stage in their history

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.


    I'd imagine you got into the US because one of your ancestors family either
    a - sold your ancestors to a slave trader so he could improve his house
    b - lost a local war in which your ancestors were taken prisioner by another african tribe and sold at a tidy profit, to the white slave traders.

    Go learn some history, not the selective sob storys taught about "evil white man"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    135. woah, you make it sound as if kenya reacted similar to uganda. firstly kenyan asians were not expelled, they were told to apply for kenyan citizenship with a time period, when they didn't africans reacted with suspiscion to them as to why they hadn't done so, bit like how parts of UK society react on the word immigrants. These asians had a choice, unlike Uganda

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Totally agree with 125, yet again we are looking at history without context and through 2012 eyes. The Mau Mau were some of the most morally rupgnant people to ever walk the earth, their record of murder, mutilation, flagellation, victim burning, torture and dimemberment was unsurpassed in African history. This is about gaining cash from the UK taxpayer for greedy lawyers, no more no less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    I believe that we give millions of £'s in aid to Kenya – I suggest that any compensation they may win (which I'm sure they will) be taken out of that. They can then start helping their own, and we can do the same here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Shame more people from our empire days aren't around. I think we owe half the globe bigtime. I'll get me cheque book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Does this mean the Indian Ugandans are going to sue Uganda? I doubt it, these leaches only want one thing, I bet they did crimes worse than their treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    What about any compensation payments awarded being donated to a suitable anti torture charity to help eradicate this inhuman practice. I wonder if the claimants would have the same enthusiasm to pursue their case if this was to be stipulated by the court?

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    #287 kane

    --you almost used the ´N´ word ?

    --I told you many times before --be careful of waving flags

    --you could be held responsible !

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    The four "kenyans" pictured above holding various cards supporting the mau mau and demanding cash for the "victims" of torture should, in my opinion, put their money where their mouths are and PAY UP for the crimes of murder and torture committed by the Mau Mau. Its almost akin to a group of Nazi death camp guards claiming compensation for their misstreatment by the Allies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    Here's a solution, We'll pay compensation for the fact that they were tortured but instead of giving it to them we'll hand direct to those the Mau Mau attempted to murder murdered or the decendents of those they did. As this is just about money and not justice the money ends up in the right place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    The mau mau murdered innocents. This is another ridiculous ruling by the British courts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    Good to know that crimes can be investigated and tried even after so many decades. A certain Mr. Tony Blair may sleep somewhat less comfortably in his bed from now on. No mater how long it takes the accusations against him as a war ciminal will be with him. Good. Good luck to the Kenyans to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    @256 same people that support Jewish occupation of Palestine after the war, calling it their 'homeland' in spite of the fact that it hadn't been that for centuries...

    Er... 60years ago and centuries ago.... Where do we draw the line, what makes one seem more just than the other?

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    I find the 'Britains riches came from colonialism' rather funny. The poorest nations in Europe (Spain, Portugal) once ruled half the world. The richest (Germany, Switzerland, Sweden etc) had virtually no colonies. The truth is that only a handful of our colonies turned a profit. We couldn't wait to get rid of places like the Sudan as it cost us a fortune to administer!

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    Will relatives of the Ruck family and Lari Massacre victims be suing the mau mau? Or is it only repugnant when it's the British doing it? I have no doubt the treatment of prisoners was foul disgusting and inexcusible but what annoys is the holier than thou attitute of the claimants. It's ok when the mau mau did it to someone else but not the other way round? a bit two faced really...

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    Wow, such double standards here. If we were talking about the victims of Church abuse in the 50's and 60's, i don't think anyone would be saying "it was many years ago", "forgive and forget" etc. Also, the British state, a country that should be a leading example of Liberal Democracy, should be held to higher standards than the Mau Mau, a terrorist group with no democratic mandate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    This is just a waste of taxpayers money. The current government has absolutely no responsibility for what happened in the 1950s, and surely it is timed everybody just moved on. It's the equivalent of an old British veteran sueing the current German government for being tortured in a Nazi War Camp during WWII.
    Just move on...

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    It never fails to amaze me how people gasp with shock when they learn just how evil a bunch british soldiers are.

    It highlights the brainwashing that continues to make us accept the lies that the British are the best army in the world and have a moral high ground like no other.

    Hopefully prosecutions swiftly follow this decision!


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