Historic legal victory for Kenyan victims of colonial torture

Three elderly Kenyan victims of torture during the Mau Mau independence struggle in the 1950s today won a historic legal victory against the British Government, after the High Court rejected the Government’s argument that their claims are time barred under English law.

The case will now proceed to a full trial unless the Government opens negotiations, which lead to a settlement. REDRESS, a London-based human rights organisation that helps torture survivors obtain justice and reparation, intervened in the case and made written and oral submissions to the High Court in support of the victims’ claims.

REDRESS argued that there should be no statutes of limitations on war crimes and other gross or serious violations of international law, including torture.

“We welcome the fact that that these elderly victims, who have been waiting for justice for more than 50 years, will now have a chance to be heard and to receive compensation for the horrendous abuses that they suffered,” said REDRESS’s Interim Director Dadimos Haile. “The British Government has accepted that the Kenyan colonial regime tortured Kenyans prior to independence, and yet it still strenuously denies any responsibility. This undermines the UK’s anti-torture policy and is a poor example to the rest of the world.”

The Kenyan victims claim that they suffered grave abuses at the hands of British colonial authorities, including castrations, severe sexual assaults and systematic beatings. During the latest hearing, in July 2012, the Government conceded for the first time that the torture had occurred. Despite this admission, the Government continued to deny legal responsibility by claiming that too much time had lapsed. Last year, the High Court rejected the Government’s argument that Kenya was legally responsible for any abuses because all liabilities were transferred to the Kenyan Republic upon independence in 1963.

Today the Judge, Justice McCombe, rejected the Government’s claim that it was impossible to have a fair trial, among other reasons, because many witnesses had died. He said: “I have reached the conclusion (…) that a fair trial of this part of the case does remain possible and that the evidence on both sides remains significantly cogent for the Court to complete its tasks satisfactorily. The documentation is voluminous (…) and the government and military commanders seem to have been meticulous record keepers.”

The claimants are part of a larger community of elderly Kenyans who were imprisoned during the Kenya Emergency in the 1950s and 1960s.The victims were represented by Leigh Day & Co. REDRESS instructed leading silk Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC to draft its submission and present oral arguments in the case Mutua and Others v. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

For further information:

Contact Eva Sanchis at [email protected] or +44 (0) 2077931777.

Note: REDRESS was founded by a British torture survivor in 1992. Since then, it has consistently fought for the rights of torture survivors and their families in the UK and abroad. REDRESS takes legal challenges on behalf of survivors, works to ensure that torturers are punished and that survivors and their families obtain remedies for their suffering. REDRESS has intervened in a range of leading torture cases.