Britain announced on June 6 it will compensate more than 5,200 elderly Kenyans who were tortured and abused during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule.
Foreign Secretary William Hague stopped short of a full apology, but said Britain “sincerely regrets” the abuses, as he unveiled a compensation and costs deal worth US$30.8 million.
His statement follows a four-year legal battle in which Britain maintained it was not liable for the abuse — which remains its position — claiming legal responsibility had passed to the Kenyan government after independence in 1963.
“The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” Hague told parliament’s lower House of Commons.
“The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence. Torture and ill-treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity that we unreservedly condemn.”
British law firm Leigh Day, which has pursued the case, welcomed the deal and said it had been agreed with all of its 5,228 Kenyan clients.
After about a third of the money is deducted as legal costs, the remainder will be shared equally between the Kenyans. The firm’s senior partner Martyn Day said each claimant would receive around US$ 3960.
“(US$3960) is not a massive amount of money here but over there it is quite a significant amount of money,” he told AFP.
About 160 elderly Mau Mau gathered to hear the announcement made simultaneously by the British high commissioner in Nairobi, where London will also help build a monument to victims of colonial-era torture as part of the deal.
“I’m thankful to heaven that we are still alive today to experience this and to be compensated for the atrocities that have been committed,” said Habil Molo Ogola, 78.
He told AFP that he was detained for three years for trying to help Mau Mau prisoners escape, and was tortured.
“I’m very grateful to the British for finally accepting to compensate us,” he said.
Speaking in London, Day said thousands of Kenyans — many of them unassociated with the Mau Mau insurgency — had endured horrific treatment in British-run detention camps.
“They included castration, rape and repeated violence of the worst kind. Although they occurred many years ago, the physical and mental scars remain,” Day said.
He added: “The elderly victims of torture now at last have the recognition and justice they have sought for many years.”
In a test case, claimants Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara last year told the High Court in London how they were subjected to torture and sexual mutilation.
Lawyers said that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the Mau Mau rebellion.
Foreign Office lawyers had also argued that the events took place too long ago to allow a fair trial. But the High Court in London twice ruled that the compensation claims could proceed.
The discovery of a vast archive of colonial-era documents which the Foreign Office had kept hidden for decades revealed the extent of the mistreatment.
Hague said Britain continued to deny liability and insisted that the June 6 settlement would not represent a precedent for any other historic complaints.
“It is of course right that those who feel they have a case are free to bring it to the courts,” Hague said, but Britain would “also continue to exercise our own right to defend claims”.
“And we do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration,” he added.
However, Day said there might be “one or two cases that use this as a precedent”, citing “serious abuse” under the British administrations in Malaysia, Palestine, Aden and Cyprus.
Officials said a combination of reasons were behind the move to settle the Kenyan claims, including Britain’s international stand on human rights.
“The moral case as well as the political case definitely weighed in our decision in doing the right thing,” a British diplomat said.
More than 10,000 people were killed during the 1952-1960 Mau Mau uprising and tens of thousands were detained, including US President Barack Obama’s grandfather.