|Wambugu Wa Nyingi said he was detained without charge for nine years and was beaten daily with sticks [AFP]|
A group of elderly Kenyans who say they were tortured by British officers during the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s have taken their case to the High Court in London.
The four claimants, three men and one woman in their 70s and 80s, are seeking compensation and a statement of regret for the treatment they suffered, including castration, torture, sexual abuse, forced labour and beatings.
Lawyers for the group said their clients were subjected to “unspeakable acts of torture and abuse” at the hands of British officials.
“The treatment they endured has left them all with devastating and lifelong injuries,” Martyn Day said before the case started on Thursday.
“There is no doubt that endemic torture occurred in Kenya before independence.”
The case, which is expected to last for two weeks, could open the door for claims from hundreds of other people who survived detention camps during the uprising, which saw Kenyans fighting against British rule in their country.
However, the British foreign ministry, which is being forced to release thousands of secret files from its former colonies, including Kenya, insists that Britain cannot be held legally liable.
Robert Jay, a foreign ministry lawyer, admitted on Thursday that several Kenyans were “screened” – a system of interrogation to identify suspects – and tortured inside the detention camps.
However, he argued that Britain had not explicitly enacted a law that said prisoners were to be severely beaten or tortured, and it could not be held responsible for the abuses.
Jay said the officers who ran the camps were under the jurisdiction of the colonial administration in Kenya, and that all its powers and liabilities had been legally passed to the Kenyan government on independence in 1963.
The Mau Mau uprising began in central Kenya in a bid to regain land seized by British authorities.
But more than 10,000 people were killed in the rebellion, which lasted from 1952 to 1960, and tens of thousands were detained, including the grandfather of Barack Obama, the US president.
Wambugu Wa Nyingi, one of the four claimants, says he was detained without charge for nine years, subjected to forced labour and beaten daily with sticks.
Nyingi told the AFP news agency that he survived a massacre at the British-run Hola Camp, lying unconscious for three days alongside 11 people who were killed.
“I suffered physical violence on my head, on my legs, I still have the scars today because of the beatings from the colonial administrators,” 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.”
A spokesperson for Britain’s foreign ministry said that the period in Kenyan history “remains a deeply divisive issue” within the country and “caused a great deal of pain for many on all sides”, but that the UK would defend the cases.
“The UK government is not transferring responsibility to the government of Kenya for dealing with the allegations; we are simply stating that under the law, Her Majesty’s Government cannot be held liable in this case.”
Thursday’s hearing is the culmination of an eight-year legal battle, involving lengthy research to piece together evidence.