Kenyans get go-ahead to sue Britain over torture

Kenyans say they were beaten and sexually assaulted by officers acting for British administration.

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 Thursday.

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. It argues that all the powers and liabilities of the colonial administration passed to the Kenyan government on independence in 1963.

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 under the King`s African Rifles regiment also took part in the assault on the Mau Mau and their supporters.

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 violently sexually assaulted.

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

"The rival factual contentions are hotly disputed," he said.

A lawyer for the Kenyans, Martyn Day, said the claimants were "delighted that the High Court has rejected the British government`s arguments so emphatically. It is an outrage that the British government is dealing with victims of torture so callously."

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.

Africa Minister Henry Bellingham said the government would continue to fight the claim, "given the length of time elapsed and the complex legal and constitutional questions the case raises."

But he said Britain understood "the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the Emergency period in Kenya."

"Our relationship with Kenya and its people has moved on since the Emergency period," he said. "We are now partners and the U.K. is one of the largest bilateral donors in Kenya."

Bureau Report

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