Kenyan Torture Victims Win First Battle in Court



From 1952-1961 there was an event labeled the Kenyan Emergency. During this time, fighters from the Mau Mau movement in Kenya targeted the British. British colonial forces were sent to quell the situation resulting in tens of thousands of these rebels being killed and over one hundred and fifty thousand Kenyans being put in detention camps. These camps have been compared to the Gulag forced labor camps. Three Kenyans claim that they, among many others, were tortured while in these camps. The torture inflicted upon them ranged from rape to severe beatings to castration.


These three Kenyans brought a claim for damages against Britain. The problem is that these events happened over 60 years ago and it was not certain if a Court would hear it. This past week however, the Kenyan torture victims passed their first hurdle to getting their day in Court. A British Court ruled that the three elder Kenyans could pursue their claims damages. The government and the military commanders at the time kept meticulous records and as a result, the Court found that there was enough evidence for both sides to allow the Court to accomplish its task.


The British Foreign Office stated that there is no doubt that these people were tortured. One of many concerns they have however, are the legal implications the decision to allow this case to continue will have on other claims. They have filed an appeal.


The questions I pose are should a statute of limitations be placed on this case? The event happened over 60 years ago, many of the people in key positions at the time are dead. Can this case really be tried fairly against the British government? On the other hand, these were poor uneducated Kenyans on the losing side of a revolution with no access to legal counseling. Should justice not be given to crimes committed against them no matter the number of years that have passed? What about the flood of claims similar to these that are due to follow from other crimes committed in other colonies once owned by the British government? It was once said that the sun never set on the British Empire. Should there be no time limit to file a claim?



Financial Times

One comment

  1. I did some more research on this story and came across an interesting fact: “Around 90,000 Kenyans were executed, tortured or maimed during the crackdown against the Mau Mau, the Kenya Human Rights Commission has said. Among those detained was President Barack Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama.”

    It would be intriguing to see what, if anything, President Obama had to say about these Kenyans getting their day in court, but I was unable to track down a statement. I’m sure he would join many others and view this as a triumph because putting all of the technicalities and legalities aside, that’s exactly what it is. I think sometimes we (students, lawyers, society as a whole) forget that real people were affected by these torturous acts. We think of a lawsuit and see two sides, the judge, the remedy. But we forget the gray area. We tend to overlook what really happened, how these people really felt. The entire purpose of a legal system, in any country, is to give the injured a chance to heal, or as we call it to “be made whole.” I’m not sure these people will ever fully heal. As the article suggests, many Kenyans are still left with not only physical but emotional scars. Nonetheless, there is a different type of healing that the court system and justice can bring. One laborer captured it perfectly: “…I would like the wrongs which were done to me and other Kenyans to be recognized by the British government so that I can die in peace.”

    These cases present a true need for justice. Forget the statute of limitations. We all know that our government, or the British government, can find ways to keep certain claims out of court and find ways to push others in. This one got in, rightfully so.

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