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 493.

    484. Shekhar
    Sort all the comments by 1) Highest Rated and 2) Lowest Rated and observer what you see.
    You will see the TRUE face of British public. They still don't think that Colonialism / racism was bad after all.

    YES and it makes me feel ashamed. How can British people condone torture and rape sanctioned by the state

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    I bet there are certain bigwigs who do not want to hear about this one.

    Some old stiff upper lip relation having been involved. Perhaps a father or an Uncle? Worthy chaps or that is what they thought they were?

    Memoirs will have to be revised or possibly abandoned. Red faces in the Shires, mutterings in the Club. A portrait or two quietly removed

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    I don't condone the torture, but it was war. Will any Mau Mau victims receive an apology and a cheque? Are the so-called 'freedom fighters" absolved of their cruelty, butchery, lopping off limbs or burning people alive? Are the claimants and supporters remorseful or innocent? They seek to pluck the splinter from the British eye while ignoring the log in their own. What a double standard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    484. Shekhar
    Sort all the comments by 1) Highest Rated and 2) Lowest Rated and observer what you see.
    You will see the TRUE face of British public. They still don't think that Colonialism / racism was bad after all.
    So what's your point? That we should start colonising again and legalise racism? Besides that, I hardly think HYS is representative of the British public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.


    "And what of those killed and tortured by the Mau Mau."

    476.David Traynier
    "What of them?"

    Caring person aren't you. The point that I am making is that the Mau Mau were never the innocent freedom fighters.

    Two wrongs may not make a right but there was certainly a lot of evil practiced in Kenya and it wasn't started by the British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    And why will money solve the issue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    "TheRationalOne: Many commenters are asking how far back do you go for acts of atrocities? If the victims are still alive then their case deserves to be heard"

    Just one flaw in your argument; what about those who were murdered?

    Prosecute individuals repsonsible fair enough, but not Nation States, or should we be prepaing for claims from Iraq & Afghanistan in the second half of this century?

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    So the next time this kind of thing happens (as it surely will one day, human nature being what it is), surely the order will be to leave no witnesses alive at all, dispose of the bodies without trace. Nobody left to complain. It's not right, but that's the way it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    People would do well to educate themselves to best endeavours, before siding too far one way or the other:

    "No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man's inhumanity to man, there is no race distinction..."

    "... The Africans were practising it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides."

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    Sort all the comments by 1) Highest Rated and 2) Lowest Rated and observer what you see.
    You will see the TRUE face of British public. They still don't think that Colonialism / racism was bad after all. It is just the legal system which has masked the true identity.

  • Comment number 483.

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

  • Comment number 482.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    I find it strange that people are saying that after 50 years it is impossible to reach a fair verdict.

    Their claim is proved by extensive documentary evidence (British Documents) conveniently hidden for many years the British Government does not dispute these claims and has no intention of offering any defence if there is a court case.

    The only thing they are disputing is the time elapsed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    They are suing the British Government so stop with the 'I'm not to blame' comments. You aren't getting sued. And the individuals involved did it in the name of that Government and went unpunished because it was deemed acceptable.

    It’ll probably be settled out of court anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    The 3 Kenyans should be able to have their say in a criminal court. I don't see any issue with this. Whether morally wrong to intervene in another country's affairs or morally wrong not to do so - as a country we should welcome all claims of injustice through our legal system. We need to go through this process to become morally respected and develop our international presence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    100% Agree #465 Megan.

    Any evidence on evil rapists and killers should be put before a criminal caught and the vile scum dealt with!

    As it is however I am being held responsible (and asked to fork out) for somthing somone else, likely dead, did, allegedly on the orders of somone else is now dead, to someone else who supports killing of their own countrymen. This is not acceptable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Look out Rome,expect claims from around europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.


    "And what of those killed and tortured by the Mau Mau."

    What of them? I'm not concerned with the crimes of other people -I'm concerned with the crimes carried out by my Government. It's very easy to wring one's hands and pontificate about the crimes of other people but it's hot air. I'm British, I care about what the British Government did in my name. End of story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    Old epitaphs will need to be re-written when it has all come out in court

    And perhaps one or two statues will be quietly removed?

    Certain individuals repuations tarnished when facts are made official

    This all happened on our current Queen's watch. Kenya was her sovereign territory. What does the Queen have to say and will she appear in Court to recount what she knows

    Highly unlikely

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    345. thelevellers
    Most of the world's warzones today are former british colonies."

    Correlation without causation. I mean, the main site of the world's most devastating war (WW2) was a former Italian colony (Roman Europe). How many conclusions can we draw from that? Correlation doesn't equal causation.


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