AFRICANGLOBE – Britain is set to pay compensation to more than 5,000 victims of torture in prison camps set up during Kenya’s Mau Mau conflict in the 1950s.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the Commons that Britain “sincerely regrets” the abuse which included castration, rape and beatings.
MPs heard Britain will pay £19.9m in costs and compensation to 5,228 Kenyans in full and final settlement of a High Court action.
The UK will also support the construction of a memorial in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to the victims of torture and abuse during the brutal colonial era.
Negotiations started after a London court ruled last year that elderly victims tortured during a crackdown by British forces could sue the UK.
The abuses took place during the so-called Kenyan “Emergency” between 1952 and 60, when fighters from the Mau Mau rebelled against British imperialism.
Those attacks sparked panic among White settlers and alarmed the government in London, prompting one of the British Empire’s most shameful episodes.
Mr Hague said: “We understand the pain and the grief felt by those who were involved in the events of emergency in Kenya.
“The British Government recognises that Kenyans were subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration.
“The British Government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress to independence.
“Torture and ill-treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity which we unreservedly condemn.”
He stressed that the Government continued to deny liability for the actions of the colonial administration and indicated it would defend claims from other former British colonies.
Lawyer Martyn Day, who represented the victims, said: “”These crimes were committed by British colonial officials and have gone unrecognised and unpunished for decades.
“They included castration, rape, sodomy and repeated violence of the worst kind. Although they occurred many years ago, the physical and mental scars remain.
“The elderly victims of torture now at last have the recognition and justice they have sought for many years. For them, the significance of this moment cannot be over-emphasised.”
The Mau Mau nationalist movement originated in the 1950s among the Kikuyu people of Kenya. Its loyalists advocated violent resistance to British domination of the country.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission has estimated 90,000 Kenyans were killed or maimed and 160,000 detained during the uprising.
Britain tried for three years to block the Mau Mau veterans’ legal action in the courts, drawing condemnation from the elderly torture victims who accused Kenya’s former colonial invader of using legal technicalities to fight the case.
Caroline Elkins, a Harvard history professor who acted as an expert witness in the case launched in 2009, said the settlement would be the first of its kind for the former British Empire.
“(It) should be seen as a triumph,” she said.
Britain had first said that responsibility for events during the Mau Mau uprising passed to Kenya upon its independence in 1963, an argument which London courts rejected.
The Government then said the claim was brought long after the legal time limit. But a judge in October’s ruling said there was ample documentary evidence to make a fair trial possible.