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 413.

    The UK like a pot gold for other countries while tax payers pick up the tab.

  • Comment number 412.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Yeah you're right I should sue the government for fighting the nazis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    379. Voiddragon

    So my taxes are going to pay for something i wasn't even alive for? hmm makes sense.

    But if you had been alive then, of course you would have been happy to pay for it. Right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    400.Eye Drops - "......We were invaded by the vikings who committed rape and pillage, then there were the Romans, can we now go and seek compensation from Scandinavia and Italy too?"

    Don't be stupid, those countries were not even countries in those time frames. However, bar switching from left to right ad infintum, the British ovt still exists as it did during the Mau Mau rebellion.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    First of all addressing that woman`s claim. My forefathers were not rapists.
    Secondly I have no reason to believe any of these claims.

    I don`t believe the British castrated that man and I defiantly don`t believe that woman was raped by British soldiers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    The British as a military and wealth grabbing machine not only had a great history of colonising other countries but also of enslaving its own people!

    Britannia once ruled the waves, but Britons never slaves?

    So called 'Patriots' moan about the number of immigrants from the former colonies. It's called the Empire come home to roost!

    Am a proud Brit but, we still need to heal wounds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    One thing is for sure and that is that I didn't do this, nor did anyone ruling the country right now. Most of those that did, are probably long deceased, and so why should this be imposed on most of todays people (and I am not young) who were either not born or just children when all this happened ? How far back can people take things like this ? Why should we be burdened with the guilt of it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    I intend to sue Homo sapiens for wiping out Homo neanderthalensis

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    This is ALL about the money and the UK legal system allowing it.
    Imagine a picture of a cow with one person pulling the front legs and another pulling the back legs arguing over ownership . In the middle is a Lawyer , milking the cow.
    If they were offered an unreserved apology they would have lost interest .All about the money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    Yes British colonialists pained Kenyans decades ago- They moved on. Those who were chased in Zimbabwe- moved on.Atrocities done to the colonised was WAY more brutal! Whatever Africans did to retaliate was justified. In this case, there was 'demonic' (if I may say so) torture involved- the kind that NEVER goes away-it stays for years.The ruling is justified,any such cases in future would be too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    Glynn Webb,96. Why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    How many people here have paid tax to clear debts incurred by the British government during WW2 that were not born until many years after it ended?

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    Yes, during past regimes we did not act correctly (by todays standards) but then how many other countries are similarly culpable. Does this now mean that all past grievances can now be reconsidered?
    We were invaded by the vikings who committed rape and pillage, then there were the Romans, can we now go and seek compensation from Scandinavia and Italy too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Re 358: Go tell somebody that could care less. Sub-Saharan Africa has, in the post-imperial era, become a by-word for barbarity and suffering. I for one, will take no lectures on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    A trial of this case could be very illuminative in the current social climate of accountability, responsibility and blame - indeed the whole so-called 'compensation culture' - which so besets our world in modern times. To what extent and for how long can a sovereign state be held culpable for the actions of those who serve it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    Absolutely ridiculous!! British law is a laughing stock!!! And we British tax payers fund this drivel .... No country or peoples are innocent of atrocities so all the fools taking the high ground should look at where they have come from and maybe volunteer to pay for all their ancestors crimes ... what an absolute joke!

  • Comment number 396.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    Some interesting points here, and this can only be a good thing for the victims and others around the world in a similar situation.

    However I would be wary that his article may read that the British Colonial Government were directly responsible for all the deaths during Mau Mau, particularly in the 'background' graphic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    Harvard Prof. Caroline Elkins spent 10 yrs interviewing British guards, settlers and officials and confirmed 1 million people were detained and thousands abused. Myths about the goodness of the British Empire makes it hard to believe contrary evidence. I imagine ordinary people living in Britain in the 50s would have tried to stop this if they knew, similar to the response to apartheid in SA.


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