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Kenyan Government refutes Britain’s stance on colonial era torture

The Kenyan Government has called on Britain to admit legal liability in Mau Mau claims

Mau Mau claimants outside the High Court

1 April 2010

Desmond Tutu and leading figures from the human rights community accuse Britain of "an intolerable abdication of

The Kenyan Government today refuted the British Government’s claim that Kenya is legally liable for colonial era torture and called on the British Government to admit liability.

In a strongly worded statement Moses Wetangula, the Kenyan Minister for Foreign Affairs, said in Nairobi this morning:"The Kenyan Government does not accept liability for the torture of Kenyans by the British colonial regime. In no way can the Kenyan Republic inherit the criminal acts and excesses of the British colony and then the British Government. The Government of Kenya fully supports this case…. The Government of Kenya calls on the British Government to lessen the costs of litigation by simply admitting liability....”

The Kenyan Government was responding to the British Government’s application to defend claims of Kenyan victims of British Colonial torture on the grounds that the liabilities of the Kenyan Colonial Administration were passed on the new Kenyan Government at independence in 1963. The implication of the argument is that the current Kenyan Government, as the successor to the British Colonial Administration, is liable for the torture committed by the colonial regime.

The Kenyan Government’s position was supported by a group of leading human rights organisations, politicians and international lawyers from around the world including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Nigel Rodley, the British member of the UN Human Rights Committee. They have sent an open letter to the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband in which they state:

“…the Government claims that the current Kenyan Government is legally liable for abuses which took place under the British Colonial Administration. In our view, this represents an intolerable abdication of responsibility. Britain’s insistence that international human rights standards should be respected by governments around the world will sound increasingly hollow if the door is shut in the face of these known victims of British torture.”

Leigh, Day & Co has been instructed by the Kenya Human Rights Commission to represent Kenyans who were tortured during the brutal repression of “the Mau Mau rebellion” by the British Colonial Government in the 1950s and early 1960s. On 23rd
June 2009, the victims travelled 4,000 miles to London from rural Kenya in order to issue the claims at the High Court in person and to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister.

The claims are on behalf of men and women from different Kenyan communities who are representative of the wider community of thousands of Kenyans who were detained and tortured during the “Kenya Emergency” independence. Detainees suspected of being members of, or sympathising with, the Mau Mau rebellion were subjected to unspeakable abuses including arbitrary killings, castrations, sexual abuse, forced labour, starvation and the systematic use of violence. The facts have been painstakingly researched and documented by leading historians from Oxford and Harvard. (1)

The surviving victims, many of whom had little or no involvement with the Mau Mau, have made it clear to the British Government that they seek first and foremost an acknowledgement that this wrong was committed. They also seek the establishment
of a scheme to address the health and welfare needs of the wider community of victims who were tortured by the British Colonial Administration.

Martyn Day, Senior Partner at Leigh Day & Co said today:

"Our clients are delighted that the Kenyan Government has decided to support their case so emphatically. It is an outrage that the British Government is seeking to pin the liability for British torture onto the Kenyan Government. We hope now that sense
will prevail and the British Government will agree to resolve the case amicably and cease arguing arcane points of international law”.

(1) In particular see David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the end of Empire, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005 and Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, Henry Holt/Jonathan Cape, 2005.

For further information, contact Dan Leader on 020 7650 1247 / 07870 206727 or George Morara on 254-020-3874998.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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