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

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 573.

    Britain, torturing and murdering foreigners.

    Nooooooooo. That can't be right. We're delightful people. We would never do that.


  • rate this

    Comment number 572.

    Stop all aid to these countries and use it to settle these claims. As this will open the floodgates of claims coming our way.

    Maybe Britain should pay them compensation out of the aid that we give Kenya. Let the Kenya Government decide on the pay out. Bet they would get nothing out of their own government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 571.

    20. tnek_CFP
    I'm eager to hear how they are going to prove this torture took place, or is it going to be a case of someone saying it did and the court rolling over and throwing a pile of money at them?

    Are you unable to read?
    The indisputable evidence is contained within British documentation hidden away / conveniently lost for years. The gov say they will not defend the case if it gets to court

  • rate this

    Comment number 570.

    I am amazed that 128 is an editor's pick. Britain did not invade Kenya. If my history is correct Kenya was handed over to the then British Empire by the Germans. Who had taken over Kenya as part of their empire building. Any award should be based on living standards in Kenya not the UK. Should also be deducted from any foreign aid given to Kenya.

  • rate this

    Comment number 569.

    Ghandi said an eye for an eye leaves us all blind. The Mau Mau committed unspeakable crimes against their own people, but when the British decided to exact torturous punishment on those in detention, they became as sadistic and murderous as their prisoners.
    Providing that the claimant's own histories are proven to be exemplary and above question, they should be entitled to claim an apology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 568.

    @ 552colinwe

    When did I say anything like that you're twisting my words, what I'm saying is just because some of the Mau Mau committed atrocites doesn't mean because the 15 year old girl was Mau Mau that we're not responsible for the atrocites we committed on her,no different than if we executed a Nazi officers child but argued the Nazis were worse so any crimes we commit should be cancelled out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    So do the victims of Mau Mau have the right to sue the Kenyan government ? I think not
    Or how about the victims of the Black Hole of Calcutta ? Should they sue the Indian government ?
    Or Greek villagers massacred by the Nazis ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    These are actually being represented by no win no fee British lawyers...I am amazed.
    They would be best thought of representing the more repressed against nations who still condone these type of acts. No publicity, no profit, no chance. Self indulgent idiots who pretend they care about the best interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    I agree that compensation for this rather than any atrocity is arbitrary, but I find it worrying that some of the top-rated comments are just factually incorrect.

    @15 Jews have claimed compensation from Germany. The Luxembourg Agreement of 1952 provided compensation for survivors and victims’ families. From 1954 to 1991 West Germany paid roughly 110 billion marks to Jewish survivors.


  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    This yet one more travisty and abuse of our justice system.
    The Mao Mao were one of the most cruel terrorist groups ever,they hav NO right to seek any compensation from us.
    What IS wrong with our top judges,do they really live in anoth world than the rets of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    No, but then hneither should we (for arguments sake) sue the children and grandchildren of those currently living in Saudi Aribia, or even punish those their today who had nothing to do with it.
    Justisce is punishment for the perps, not a hand out from those who happened to be born in the same place!

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    I do not see how we can compare one atrocity against another - saying one outweighs the other. The law states people shouldn't be tortured. It is clear that what happened to these 3 Keynans was wrong. They should get their chance in court. We cannot turned around to these 3 victims and say "tough luck - it is an eye for an eye..." That would be medieval. Wake up, people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    The reaction am seeing here is not very different from what the families and the victims of the Hillsborough disaster had to endure for 13 years until recently. Just like the fans and the dead were to blame for their own misfortune in Hillsborough, the colonial torture victims still alive should move on since the mau mau too were unjust. Then sue the mau mau if they wronged you I say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    544.bedsdriver -France apologising to England for 1066

    the normans were descendants of viking mercenaries and co-ordinated their attacks with viking allies so maybe they don't need to apoligise for that but perhaps one is owed for collabarting with the nazi's

    tortur is wrong whether they do it or we do it

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    For me it is simple - people who have had crimes committed against them should be compensated if those crimes were the consequence of government policy. That is the only conclusion you can come to if you believe in justice and accountability and, of course, applies to every country. That the UK's institutions can accept responsibility for what happened is a credit to this country.

  • Comment number 558.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    a good memory for making there claim for compensation but a short memory about the horrific crimes they themselves committed , we should'nt pay them a penny until they have paid compensation to all there victims and there were an awful lot of them including british troops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    Maybe Britain should pay them compensation out of the aid that we give Kenya. Let the Kenya Government decide on the pay out.

    Then all the other British people that suffered or lost loved ones, property etc. should also be compensated out of the aid we pay to Kenya.

    Are these Mau Mau members without sin. Did they participate in the horendous

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    @547 Maybe we should or maybe we shouldn't. But what are you going to do try and sue the Afghan government becuase that's where the hate started, or maybe the Pankistan government. the point is not whether it was wrong of couse both sides were in the wrong, but allowing them to sue decades later for compansation???!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    I smell compensayshun. Keeeerrrching.

    Nice work if you can get it....ex terrorist or not.


Page 8 of 36


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.