Ian Cobain, Richard Norton-Taylor,
and Clar Ni Chonghaile in Nairobi
October 5, 2012.
The high court in London has allowed three elderly Kenyans to pursue damages for torture
The British government is bracing itself for thousands of legal claims from people who were imprisoned and allegedly mistreated during the final days of the empire after the high court in London ruled that three elderly Kenyans detained and tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion have the right to sue for damages.
The court rejected claims from the British government's lawyers that too much time had elapsed since the seven-year insurgency in the 1950s, and that it was no longer possible to hold a fair trial. Last year the same high court judge rejected the British government's claim that the three claimants should be suing the Kenyan government, as it had inherited Britain's legal responsibilities on independence in 1963.
Human rights activists in Kenya estimate that around 2,000 of the 70,000-plus people detained by the British colonial authorities are still alive. Many of them could bring claims against the British government. The ruling could also make it possible for victims of colonial atrocities in other parts of the world to sue.
But many more men and women around the world who were imprisoned and allegedly mistreated during the conflicts that often accompanied the British retreat from empire may also be considering claims: cases that could bring to light evidence of the brutal mistreatment of colonial subjects and result in a new and uncomfortable understanding of recent British history.
The foreign office acknowledged that the ruling had "potentially significant and far reaching legal implications", and said it is planning to appeal. "The normal time limit for bringing a civil action is three to six years," a spokesman said. "In this case, that period has been extended to over 50 years despite the fact that the key decision makers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened."
Friday's historic victory for Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, was the result of a three-year battle through the courts. They had suffered what their lawyers describe as "unspeakable acts of brutality", including castration, beatings and severe sexual assaults. A fourth claimant dropped out while a fifth, Susan Ciong'ombe Ngondi, died two years ago, aged 71.
Read the rest here.
Comment: Onward! indeed.