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 513.

    The British State committed a crime against humanity by conquering & subjugating huge swathes of the globe. Now it has come to light that innocent people were tortured, raped & castrated by agents of our State. The government's opposition to justice is sickening. Our legal system has today established that the UK is morally bound to answer for the wicked crimes of its hired thugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    The ruling is a big stride towards justice. The British invasion of Kenya and consequent detentions of those who opposed oppression caused irreparable damage to families which is still being felt 50 years after independence. My father's detention in 1956 resulted in the loss of all his possessions. Even though he found his family intact, he died a poor man from dementia he acquired in detention

  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    Remember BBC news as a child (1950s). My Mum was in France during WWII and saw her young cousins tortured & shot in her village. She was no stranger to war. I remember her horror/terror of the Mau Mau. Fire tyre necklaces & machetes. Mau Mau far worse than the Germans . They wait till their atrocities are forgotten to sue. My parents would say no compensation, yes to trial of war crimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    445. said: "Was it not that long ago that we accepted an apology from the Japanese for the way prisoners of war were kept during WWII? We can't turn around and say that it was all too long ago..."

    Yes but an apology didn't cost anything and the 10,000 pound compensation that each surviving prisoner received (including my father) was paid by the British NOT the Japanese Government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.


    So what you are saying is it's not my fault but I should pay anyway? ooo that makes me feel so much better!
    And just because I now buy somthing from IBM, does not mean I support the help the gave the Nazi.

    As I say and say again, find and prosecute any remaining murdering rapists. That is all that can or should be done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    501.chrislabiff - I think you are being a bit blinkered. It is NOT Britain that is built on a shameful history - it is the WORLD that is built on a shameful history, going back to the Robans and beyond. We were not the only colonialists - e.g. France, Spain. How is it that Argentina is a Spanish speaking nation? We should be careful applying todays' morals to things that happened yesterday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    Whether or not Britain was right to interfere in Kenya is not important here, these people are victims of men who were employed by the British Government and therefore deserve to have their stories heard. This case, I feel, throws up the issue of holding a completely different generation accountable for a past's actions. Now is a good time for a review of the law but not for pointing the finger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    The government does not dispute the facts of the case. Their own documentation proves it happened so they would loose the case anyway.

    Yet they are still prepared to spend thousands on lawyers to wriggle out of paying compensation

    It says a lot about our current government that they would rather pay lawyers than the victims

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    If any of the opposing arguments are worthy, they will be raised by the HMG lawyers in the full hearing.
    Otherwise, I am proud, today, to benefit from a British justice system that is independent of government and today (if not always) has shown that its primary interest is that justice be and be seen to be done.
    Why now? To deter HMG from condoning similar activity in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    It should be remembered that the vast majority of Mau Mau victims were Africans, including elderly, women and children. The Emergency was implemented to protect them as well. So much for racism. After the shocking Mau Mau atrocities, how did they expect the authorities & ordinary police and soldiers to behave when they caught them? The moral of the tale? Act as the Mau Mau and leave no-one alive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    How long before the residents of Dresden or Hiroshima decide to sue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    @495 - I know where the money comes from, but your comments also include being blamed. Taxpayers are not being held liable.

    Where do you think the money comes from when companies get sued or insurance liability claims are settled? And I'm guessing you buy things from companies that get sued and have insurance? Do you feel you are being held liable then as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    GOOD !!
    Lets hope that many others will be successful in getting some justice from thug empires.
    Britain is built on a shameful history - do not forget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    This makes me feel disgusted and ashamed to be British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    Scandalous decision put into perspective over that poor little girl April and the fiend of a man Abu Hamza. This was war and if we re-visited every past war action where would the world be. Give them an apology and send them home

  • Comment number 498.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    It was long ago, other people were worse, there is worse around today, it will cost taxpayers money, they were all terrorists. Its odd but I dont recall the law saying its ok to imprison without trial, torture and murder innocent people for those reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    128.Gabriel Rodriguez
    and I find it very impressive and sad that there is people here saying that their voices should not be heard

    =>But it's how imperialism works. I was just on the phone to Italy's president Napolitano wanting compensation for what Claudius Caesar did in Britain in AD43 but he said he's still waiting for compensation from Carthage for the Punic wars. How far back d'you go?

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    so 480 where do you think this money will come from? Oh yes that's right, the taxpayer. So in effect every taxpayer is being held liable.

    And I don't care if someone did it in the name of the govenment/country.
    If I do somthing claiming it's in your name should your friends/family/posterity pay?
    If people are still alive to jail, do it. Everything else is money grabbing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    Vaclav Klaus : Is that what YOU want to do ?


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