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 473.

    Don't worry, it's only Africa, far, far away. Wrong! It happened in OUR world and the victims are still alive. Any atrocity, regardless of the time, place and perpetrator should be followed by justice! German nazis are still being chased and we thank the Simon Wiesental Center for their relentless work. Let's just hope relatives of Kenya's burnt witches will see justice done as well one day.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    422 Hugh Jarse and others
    This idea that colonialism was universally bad for the country concerned, and that all colonialists were racist, is not based on historical fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    I would have more respect for the victims if they had just wanted an apology and acknowledgement of what they were put through. But they loose all credibility in my eyes when compensation is more important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    I can't believe they are whining because they came unstuck, they should of just took it on the chin, case dismissed....

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Remember how english kings controlled Ireland,Scotland etc by bribing the nobles in those colonies. Thats what foreign aid has been to africa and to make matters worse foreign aid is a LOAN not a handout hence kenyan taxpayers are repaying the debt at very high interest rate. Kenyan taxpayers are living with the consequences of their leaders. Why should the U.K. taxpayers be treated any different?

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    What about compensation from the Mau Mau for their victims? Or are they blameless?

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Thats good because now we can expect compensation for the British troops and civilians kiled by the Mau Mau

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    456 "how much money has GB contributed to Kenya in aid since independence?"

    £10bn+ in total,at current prices - Britain has given aid to Kenya for 50 years, and at independence it was second only to India in scale. You can't link specific injustices to a foreign aid budget, but you also can't say Britain has ignored its colonial legacy either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    This should be nothing to do with revisionist ideas of 'imperalism' nor an opportunity to extort money from today's taxpayers.

    It is a chance to bring criminals who tortured and raped to justice. A 'government' did not commit these offences, even if they failed to stop them, individual evil people did... and those people should be held to account for their actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    It comes down to their word against the UK. Due to the time lag there is no way on earth there can be a proper trial. Most of if not all the people that did the alleged torture are now dead. They only after the cash nothing more. The UK should never off admitted we did it. Also can we sue them for the Violent campaign. Bring them over to the UK and lock them for war crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    450. tonep
    439 "If the victims are still alive then their case deserves to be heard"
    Agreed. Lets string this case out with appeal after appeal after appeal, (Abu Hamza style), and eventually they'll all be dead anyway. Good plan Batman.
    Either you don't get sarcasm or you deliberately quote out of context. Which one is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    The Commonwealth comes home. Our current Queen was the monarch and Kenya her sovereign territory.

    The stiff uper lips will be trembling

    Will the perpetrators appear in court to answer for their crimes? Or are they all dead and gone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Great news for lawyers! A few more bank accounts fattened by legal aid as witnesses describe events which happened 50 years ago and lay blame without a shadow of reasonable doubt! It's time to stop the gravy train!

  • Comment number 460.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    445. xyriach
    Was it not that long ago that we accepted an apology from the Japanese for the way prisoners of war were kept during WWII?
    No it wasn't. For one simple reason. The Japanese have never apologised. The best we've got is a statement of regret.... then the serving Japanese PM goes to pray at a shrine which honours the spirit of Gen Tojo & 12 other class A war criminals

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Let's be clear here: they have been given the right to pursue claims, that is all. No-one is getting money in compensation today. But is right that they should have the chance to make their claim.

    But let's remember the sickening brutality of the rising itself that saw women, children and the elderly (black and white) being hacked together with no mercy. The Mau Mau militants were bloodthirsty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    Many of the people who have the gall to criticise the invaded peoples for what they did to our invading armies are, presumably, the same people who think householders deserve unlimited freedom to deal with intruders.

    This should be simple: If you invade a country in anything other than self defence, you have no rights. What mercy would we have shown German invaders in 1941?

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    To add another angle to this much money has GB contributed to Kenya in aid since independence? No doubt this will not be factored into any compensation settlement. No doubt some suffered due to British involvement in East Africa; but how many have benefitted?
    It's so easy to wring hands over the wrongs of an Imperial past, but too easy to forget the benefits provided ever since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    438.David Traynier
    "The people who brought this case aren't long dead ancestors but living, thinking, feeling people who, very likely, were tortured by British people on the orders of the British Government"

    And what of those killed and tortured by the Mau Mau. These individuals were fighting a rather nasty campaign of terror and it wasn't only the British they were killing and torturing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    Our lawyers are out of control and our judges have lost the plot. I don't know if this will be legal aid or not but either way we taxpayers can expect a hefty bill. Where lawyers have a chance to earn so much I do not think judges provide an unbiased view. This is why the rich and the get rich quick beat a path to our courts.


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