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Fury as Britain fights ruling on Kenya torture victims

Mark Townsend

23mau-mau-uprising-compensa-010.jpg

From left: Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Jane Muthoni Mara and Paulo Muoka Nzili outside the high court in London. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

December 23, 2012


Foreign Office accused of 'morally repugnant' move that could deny compensation in Mau Mau case

The British government has provoked outrage by contesting a high court ruling that gave three elderly Kenyans the right to claim damages for abuses suffered during the Mau Mau insurgency of 1952-1960.

Despite Foreign Office lawyers admitting all three were tortured by British colonial authorities, the government has decided to pursue a route that could deny compensation to torture victims.

Lawyers have accused the Foreign Office of a "morally repugnant" move that exposes the government to allegations of hypocrisy over its denouncing of regimes such as Syria and Zimbabwe that use torture. Dan Leader of Leigh Day & Co, which is representing the three Kenyans, said: "This gives succour to brutal dictators, the fact that one of the principal western democracies is not willing to give redress to acknowledged and admitted victims of British torture." Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written to David Cameron accusing him of failing to offer elderly torture victims who suffered beatings, castration and sexual assaults "the dignity they deserve".

Many hoped the high court victory for the torture victims two months ago greeted with celebrations in Nairobi would lead the Foreign Office to drop any appeal in favour of offering redress.

The government argues that too few key witnesses remain alive to show the involvement of the British government in the torture of detainees. However, an archive of once secret documents, incorporating some 8,800 files, offers an intricate record of decision-making in the Kenyan colony during the Mau Mau uprising, as well as in London.

The documents suggest there was systematic torture of detainees and include details such as how the Kenyan authorities wrote to the British government during the insurgency asking it to authorise torture methods. These included placing feet on a detainee's throat while stuffing mud into their mouths alongside threats that any attempt to resist would result in them being beaten unconscious.

Leader added: "There were unspeakable acts of torture committed by the British colony and they are still maintaining that, even though this is British torture, they are not legally liable because they say it's too late in the day to pin the legal liability on London.

"This is a morally repugnant argument, because they have admitted British torture but are seeking to rely on a technicality."

Foreign Office lawyers have already conceded that the accounts given by the three Mau Mau veterans Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, had been credible. A fourth claimant, Susan Ciong'ombe Ngondi, died two years ago aged 71, and there are concerns that the government will contest the case until the remaining three are dead.

The Foreign Office has acknowledged that the recent court verdict in favour of the Mau Mau veterans had "potentially significant and far-reaching legal implications" and officials are thought to fear that another 2,000 Kenyans the survivors of more than 70,000 Mau Mau suspects who were imprisoned during the insurgency would also attempt to sue.

Survivors also want the British authorities to apologise for the wrongs committed against Kenyans during the eight-year emergency. The disclosure of previously secret documents last month revealed how British colonial authorities attempted to cover up the killings of 11 prisoners during the uprising. Detainees at a Kenyan detention camp were, according to the declassified papers, clubbed to death by prison warders after they refused to work.

Yet British officials attempted to blame their deaths on "drinking too much water" rather than violence; no one has been prosecuted for the deaths. In addition, they shows that right at the start of the insurgency, in 1953, the then solicitor general described the reports of abuse in Kenya as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia".



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