18 April 2012
Law firm Leigh Day & Co, who represent four elderly Kenyans who were victims of torture at the hands of British officials during the Kenya Emergency in the 1950s and 1960s, have welcomed the announcement by the Foreign Office that the first batch of thousands of ‘lost’ colonial era files have been made public.
The documents, believed to have been destroyed, were secretly sent back to the UK when former colonies became independent. They shed new light on how British officials ran overseas territories including Kenya where it is alleged thousands of people were killed, tortured or died of disease or starvation during the uprising, or Emergency, against the British colonial administration in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The ‘lost’ archives came to light in January last year after Leigh Day & Co brought a High Court case on behalf of the four victims against the UK Government over their alleged torture in British detention camps in the 1950s.
These four Kenyans represent the wider community of hundreds of elderly Kenyans who are still alive and claim to be the victim of abuses during the Emergency. President Obama’s grandfather was among those who were detained and abused at the time. The Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Kenyan Government are supporting the claims.
In April 2011, the British Government sought to have the case thrown out on the grounds that it is the Kenyan Government who is legally responsible for any abuses committed by the British colony. In a strongly worded judgment, the High Court held that there is an arguable case against the British Government and that the claims are fit for trial. The Judge held:
“There is ample evidence even in the few papers that I have seen suggesting that there may have been systematic torture of detainees during the Emergency…The materials evidencing the continuing abuses in the detention camps in subsequent years are substantial, as is the evidence of the knowledge of both governments that they were happening and of the failure to take effective action to stop them.”
The case returns to court in July 2012, to deal with a further strike out application by the British Government who now argue that the cases have been brought outside the statutory limitation period.
Martyn Day from law firm Leigh Day & Co who is representing the Kenyan victims said:
“We are pleased to see the release of so many documents relating to the colonial era. It is shocking that their release has taken over 50 years and that it took the claim brought by our four Mau Mau clients before these sensitive documents were ‘found’. More so called “top secret” files which are relevant to the case are still missing and we call on the FCO to renew their efforts to find those documents.”
“The case returns to Court in July 2012. Our clients remain determined to obtain justice for the appalling treatment they received at the hands of the British Government all those years ago.”
The documents released today record how colonial administrators planned to burn other classified papers, potentially revealing abuses committed under British rule, before handing power to the new indigenous governments.
The Foreign Office only admitted last year that it held some 8,800 files at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire which were "migrated" to Britain from colonies at the time of independence because of their sensitivity.
More than 1,200 of these records were released today at the National Archives in Kew, west London, the first of six tranches in a process due to be completed by November 2013.
A memo in the Kenyan files dated May 1961 sets out the criteria under which papers were to be "migrated".
Then-colonial secretary Iain Macleod said the aim was to ensure no files were passed to a post-independence regime which "a) might embarrass HMG (Her Majesty's Government in Britain) or other governments; b) might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers; c) might compromise sources of intelligence information; d) might be used unethically by ministers in the successor Government."
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