x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Elderly Kenyans allowed to sue the UK over 1950s Mau Mau 'torture'

Four Kenyans say they were beaten and sexually assaulted by officers acting for the British administration who were trying to suppress the Mau Mau rebellion.

Supporters of four elderly Kenyans who claim they were tortured by the British army during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising attach protest signs to the railings around the High Court in central London yesterday. Leon Neal / AFP Photo
Supporters of four elderly Kenyans who claim they were tortured by the British army during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising attach protest signs to the railings around the High Court in central London yesterday. Leon Neal / AFP Photo

LONDON // Four elderly Kenyans who claim they were tortured during an anti-colonial rebellion in the 1950s can sue the British government, a judge ruled yesterday.

The Kenyans say they were beaten and sexually assaulted by officers acting for the British administration who were trying to suppress the "Mau Mau" rebellion, in which groups of Kenyans attacked British officials and white farmers who had settled in some of Kenya's most fertile lands.

They say British administrators were aware they were being mistreated, and want an apology and compensation.

The British government tried to have the case thrown out, saying it could not be held legally responsible for the long-ago abuses.

But High Court judge Richard McCombe ruled that the claimants "have arguable cases in law," and the suit can go ahead.

In 1952, then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared a state of emergency in the country and sent British soldiers to help colonial administrators capture the fighters and send them to detention camps. African soldiers in the King's African Rifles regiment also took part in the assault on the Mau Mau and their supporters.

The US president Barack Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was one of thousands of Kenyans detained.

The four Kenyan claimants, who are in their 70s and 80s, case say they were abused by European and African soldiers, officers and prison guards in the detention camps. Two male claimants, Ndiku Mutua and Paolo Nzili, say they were castrated, and Jane Muthoni Mara says she was sexually assaulted.

Judge McCombe said he had "not found that there was systematic torture nor, if there was, the UK government is liable", but ruled that the case should go to court.

The case could prove a headache for the British government, which fears it may lead to similar claims from citizens of other former colonies who also hold grievances over the way they were treated under British rule.