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 713.

    Should we sue for the Roman atrocities? This was a different era. Colonialism is over and those countries that are not better off for it should learn from those that are, of which there many. Early Britain was subjected to horrific deeds in a different time, but we celebrate what was given to us. This is a money grabbing exercise by those that may well have committed atrocities themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    Why were the British in Kenya?

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    I wonder if I can sue the Italians for the distress that my ancesters suffered during the roman occupation. The crimes occured in Kenya, and should be heard in Kenya, paid for by the Kenyan taxpayer. The sooner that we elect judges, the sooner we get shut of the idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    Being in the middle of "Bayonets to Lhasa", by Peter Fleming, and just finishing the chapter, which describes the massacre of 700-800 Tibetans, I have a suggestion for this Mau Mau case:

    Let the court to judge the case according to the laws that were in effect in the time when the crimes were performed - that is, not the laws of 2010th, but those of 1960th. After all, the law is not retroactive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    We, Africans, are not going to forgive or forget the atrocities of the Slave Trade and the Colonial Period. It is our concern that the European colonial powers are held accountable for their crimes against Africans.

    It is not our concern that the British do not want to hold the Italians accountable for the misdeeds of the Romans in England. It's their business. Not ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    I do not agree with the judgement the mau mau were also very cruel. I can not under everyone want money out of England or is it the mau mau lawyers no win in fee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    I don't necessarily agree that there should be amy financial compensation, but just like with Hillsborough the truth should come out and the government should apologize and take the blame with humility if it can be proved that crimes were committed.

    If you can take the credit for the steam engine, then you should also accept the blame for concentration camps

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    Here we go again! Bend over Britain and be rodgered!
    Lawyers smelling massive fees, will there be adverts on TV, "did your ancestors get duffed up by a Btitain? If so you can claim!"
    It is ridiculous, Britain gives a fortune in aid every year to Kenya, who have rife corruption, but still they bite the hand that feeds them, stop overseas aid NOW! Oh and boot any out that are here!

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    @15.GeezerMacaw,Comon,Germany paid plenty on War reparations.
    I know the British love Memorials to remember,i hope they collect some Money for the Kenian victims,and for million victims of the Bengal Famine by Churchill in 1943.

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    Let us get this in some perspective. The Mau Mau was an uprising by the Kikuyu tribe trying to gain power for their tribe.Only 23 Europeans were killed by them compared to over 3000 black Kenyans and those were killed in the most barbarous way possible. Imagine having your ankles and wrists slit and to be left immobile on the ground incabable of moving to die slowly and in agony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    Your comments are reprehensible Caractacus

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    That's cool, let's us sue Kenya for compensation for the victims of the Mau Mau - all's fair, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    The vindictiveness and ignorance of comments saying it was war so it's OK disgust me.

    Will the same people think it's OK if the Taliban capture some of our troops and rape the females and castrate the men, it's a war so what is the difference.

    The rules are there to protect all including our troops, please think about the consequences of your statements

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    This is a fiasco. The law is an ass. These people were terrorists who not only tortured and killed their own people but British troops as well. They deserved everything they got and nothing now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    I agree with the comment below. Nobody would dream of holding today's generation of Germans responsible for the Holocaust. Why should present day Britons be held responsible for the sins of a handful of rogue colonialists?

    The Mau Mau rebellion was in a different time and place. Atrocities were committed by both sides. Current African atrocities dwarf anything we did as a colonial power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    @692. Vaclav Klaus

    There are many apologists for Abu Gharib and waterboarding. I'm not one of them. Occasionally I wistfully look at the British Commonwealth as a more enlightened place than my homeland. But I guess maybe we're not THAT different, are we? I can't say that thought really gives me much comfort though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    Mbugwile Nkolokosa
    'The Mau Mau were justified in their actions. They had to fight for the emancipation of their land. They had to deal harshly with the African collaborators of the colonial regime.'

    An utterly disgusting apologia for the mass murder committed by the Mau Mau against thousands of innocent people black and white.

  • Comment number 696.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    read "Britain's Gulag in Kenya" by Caroline Elkins

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    The British state has a case to answer. The British occupied African land and exploited its resources. The African people were treated as 4th class citizens.

    The Mau Mau were justified in their actions. They had to fight for the emancipation of their land. They had to deal harshly with the African collaborators of the colonial regime.

    The British were the INVADERS!

    The Mau Mau need justice.


Page 1 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.