Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Mau Mau Veterans Sue British Government

by Kathryn Hadley

Today, June 23rd, five Kenyan veterans of Kenya’s struggle for independence presented the London High Court with a case against the British government for human rights abuses in the 1950s and 1960s. The five Kenyans, three men and two women all in the their 70s and 80s, have called for the British government to acknowledge its responsibility in the alleged crimes which it committed in the pre-independence era, in particular during and in the aftermath of the Mau Mau uprising. They have also demanded the government to offer them adequate compensation for the atrocities which they suffered.

The claim was presented to the London High Court by the Mau Mau War Veterans' Association and the Kenya Human Rights Commission, through the London law firm Leigh Day & Co. Quoted in an article on the BBC website, the veterans’ lawyer, Martyn Day, said that he believed his clients had ‘a good chance of success’. He also explained:
‘We want the British government to say what we did was so wrong back in the

The British government has, however, argued that the claim is invalid because of the time that has lapsed since the alleged abuses.

The uprising began in the European-owned farmlands in central Kenya, in 1952, when Mau Mau fighters launched attacks against white settlers in an attempt to reclaim land that had been seized by the British colonial authorities. In reaction to the attacks, the British army rounded-up thousands of people and placed them in camps. Kenyan veterans of the uprising say that they suffered barbaric treatment. Ndiku Mutua, one of the five veterans, was arrested in 1954, severely beaten and castrated with pliers, at Lukenya detention centre. He was quoted in the same article on the BBC website:
‘I live with the physical and mental scars of what happened to me [...] Not a
day goes by when I do not think of these terrible events. At last I can tell my
story and at last I can hope for justice from the British courts.’

Another claimant, Paulo Nzili, said that he too was castrated. The third male claimant, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, explained that he was tied upside down by the feet and beaten. The two female veterans, Jane Muthoni Mara and Susan Ngondi, were both sexually assaulted. At the beginning of last month, lawyers claimed that they had documented 40 cases of torture, including castration, sexual abuse and unlawful detention. According to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed during the crackdown, and 160,000 were detained in appalling conditions.

It is not the first claim brought by Kenya’s former independence fighters against the British government. A formal claim for compensation was notably filed against the British government by six former Mau Mau fighters in October 2006.

For further information, read our article Burying the Bones of the Past.
For further information about how the Freedom of Information Act may have been used to protect the perpetrators of a war crimes in Kenya, read our article A Very British Massacre

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