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Kenyans win right to sue Britain over Mau Mau abuses

22 july 2011, 11:54
Four elderly Kenyans won court approval Thursday to sue the British government over the brutality they claim they suffered at the hands of the British army during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising, AFP reports.

The Foreign Office contends Britain is not legally liable for the alleged abuses, which include castration and torture, saying responsibility was transferred to the Kenyan government upon independence in 1963.

But at the High Court, judge Richard McCombe rejected the Foreign Office's request to throw out the claims, saying: "I have not found that there was systematic torture nor, if there was, the UK government is liable.

"I have simply decided that these claimants have arguable cases in law."

The test case could open the door for claims from around 1,000 others still alive who survived the detention camps during the bloody Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule.

The claimants -- Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara, who are in their 70s and 80s -- are calling for an apology and a victims' welfare fund.

They flew into London for the beginning of the court proceedings in April, but were not present for Thursday's ruling.

The case will proceed to a further hearing, due before April 2012, at which the court will consider the government's argument that the claims should not proceed to trial as they have been brought outside the legal time limit.

That trial could last around a month.

Martin Day, senior partner at the Kenyans' lawyers Leigh Day and Co, said the four claimants were delighted.

"It is an outrage that the British government is dealing with victims of torture so callously," he said.

"We call on the British government to deal with these victims of torture with the dignity and respect they deserve and to meet with them and their representatives in order to resolve the case amicably."

More than 10,000 people were killed during the 1952-1960 Mau Mau uprising, with some figures going much higher.

Tens of thousands were detained, including US President Barack Obama's grandfather.

The Foreign Office minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, said: "We understand 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.

"Despite today's judgement, the government will continue to defend fully these proceedings given the length of time elapsed and the complex legal and constitutional questions the case raises.

"We have taken note of the judgement and are considering next steps."

Nyingi, 83 this year, told AFP in April that he had been detained without charge for nine years, subjected to forced labour and beaten daily with sticks.

Talking through a Kikuyu-speaking interpreter, he said: "I am here to get justice for the many of my colleagues who have since died, and others who are still alive but living in abject poverty because of the injustices that were committed by the British colonial government.

"It's their responsibility to own up and pay us back now, compensate us, so that when I die, I do not have to keep telling my grandchildren of the injustices that were done. I need justice so that I can die a happy man."

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu welcomed the judgement, in a statement through Leigh Day and Co.

"Responding with generosity to the plea of the Kenyan victims is not a matter of legal niceties. No, it is about morality, about magnanimity and humaneness, about compassion," the Nobel prize winner said.

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