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Statement from Leigh Day on Kenyan torture victim settlement

Martyn Day responds to the statement by William Hague in relation to a settlement from the UK Government for Kenyan torture victims

Martyn Day outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2011

6 June 2013

In a statement read out today in the House of Commons, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, expressed regret for the first time that thousands of Kenyans had been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the British colonial administration during the Kenya Emergency during the 1950’s.

Mr Hague expressed “sincere regret” that these abuses had taken place and he announced that the British Government would pay compensation to Leigh Day’s 5,228 clients, as well as gross costs, to the total value of £19.9 million and finance the construction of a memorial in Kenya to the victims of colonial era torture.

Martyn Day, senior partner at law firm Leigh Day, who represents the 5,200 Kenyan victims of colonial torture, said: “I take my hat off to Mr Hague for having the courage to make today's statement and to announce this settlement with our clients. Albeit that it comes after a four year legal battle and two High Courts defeats for the Government, it takes courage to publically acknowledge for the first time the terrible nature of Britain's past in Kenya.

“During the run up to Kenyan independence thousands of Kenyans suffered horrific treatment in detention camps run by the colony. These crimes were committed by British colonial officials and have gone unrecognized and unpunished for decades. They included castration, rape and repeated violence of the worst kind. Although they occurred many years ago, the physical and mental scars remain.

“Many of those who were detained and tortured were never tried and had little or nothing to do with the Mau Mau insurgency.

“The elderly victims of torture now at last have the recognition and justice they have sought for many years. For them this significance of this moment cannot be over emphasised.

“We welcome the statement from William Hague today in the House of Commons, and also the sentiments expressed by the High Commissioner to some of the surviving victims today in Nairobi. These words will hopefully go a long way to lifting the cloud that has hung over our clients for so long.

“It is also fitting that a memorial to those, for whom this acknowledgement comes far too late, will be erected in Nairobi, paid for by the British Government to remember those many thousands of Kenyans who similarly suffered torture and abuse in the colonial era.

“The British Government rightly states that it is the sign of a strength of a democracy that it is willing to learn from its past. This case has been a long, hard struggle for justice; taking four years and two court defeats for the Government before they finally agreed to treat these victims of torture with the dignity they deserve.

“Our clients would like to pay tribute to the British legal system, which impartially and rigorously scrutinised the complex factual and legal issues raised by this historic case. Equally, the role of the expert historians Professor Caroline Elkins, Professor David Anderson and Dr Huw Bennett in this case has been of critical importance.

“Our clients would also like to pay tribute to the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the Mau Mau War Veterans Association who have provided them with every assistance during this arduous legal battle.

“We would also like to thank the many leading international human rights activists and politicians and who have repeatedly championed this issue over the years including Desmond Tutu, Lakhdar Brahimi, Glenys Kinnock, Sir Nigel Rodley and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez.

“We hope that this case will act as a reminder that there are human rights abuses so grave that they deserve recognition and redress even if the events in the question happened many years ago. That was true of those who sought redress decades after the Second World War, including the British Prisoners of War of the Japanese (whom we also represented), and now it is equally true for these African victims of British colonial abuse.”

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