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Compensation for Mau Mau veterans

Mark Caldwell (Reuters, AP, AFP)
June 6, 2013

The British government has agreed to compensate 5,200 Kenyans tortured during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule in the 1950s. The settlement came after a High Court ruling in favor of three elderly Kenyans.

Some of the four Kenyans who are taking The British government to court, with left-right; Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Jane Muthoni Mara, Paulo Nzili, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, in central London, Thursday, April 7, 2011, as four elderly Kenyans who claim that they were severely beaten and tortured by British officers during an anti-colonial rebellion in the 1950s are taking their case to court in London. The Kenyans, claiming to be victims of British colonial era torture during the 'Mau Mau' rebellion by Kenyans against British rule, are giving evidence of their claims against the British Government. (ddp images/AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Mau Mau Krieg KeniaImage: AP

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons the government would pay a total of 19.9 million pounds sterling (23.5 million euros, $30.8 million) to 5,228 clients represented by a British law firm.

Hague said the government recognizes that Kenyans were subject to torture and other ill treatment that the "British government sincerely regrets." He said the British government understands the pain felt by Kenyans who were involved.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks to journalists following a meeting with Palestinian President on May 23, 2013 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a "priority," Hague said on a visit to the region, as he met Israeli Prime Minister earlier in the day. AFP PHOTO/ ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign Secretary William Hague "understands pain felt by Kenyans"Image: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Negotiations with the British government on compensation for the thousands of Kenyans, tortured by colonial forces during an uprising in the closing years of the British Empire, began after a London court ruled in October 2012 that three victims could sue Britain.

The Kenyans, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, Paulo Muoka Nzili and Jane Muthoni Mara, had suffered castration, rape and beatings while in detention in the 1950s.

Veterans in their eighties

The torture took place between 1952 and 1960 during the state of emergency, when fighters from the Mau Mau movement attacked British targets in Kenya, causing panic among white settlers and alarming the government in London.

epa03600784 Kenya's presidential aspirant Paul Muite speaks during the second edition of the presidential debate participated by eight presidential aspirants including James Ole Kiyapi, Musalia Mudavadi, Paul Muite, Martha Karua, Raila Odinga, Mohammed Abduba Dida, Peter Kenneth and Kenyatta himself in Nairobi, Kenya, 25 February 2013. Kenya held the presidential debate for the second time in its history ahead of the general elections on 04 March 2013. EPA/JOAN PERERUAN / NATION MEDIA GROUP BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE
Lawyer Paul Muite said the apology from the British government was "important"Image: picture-alliance/dpa

According to Paul Muite, a well-known Kenyan lawyer and advisor to the Mau Mau veterans, all victims with sufficient evidence of torture would receive compensation.

Asked if he was satisfied with the size of the settlement, Muite told DW's Kiswahili language service that there were those who believed they should have held out for a larger sum, but "you have to bear in mind that most of these independence heroes are over 80 years old and are dying every day. Rejecting the cash settlement would have dragged the trial on for another 10 years and who knows if the veterans would have been around then," he said.

The Mau Mau nationalist movement originated in the 1950s among the Kikuyu people of Kenya. Its loyalists advocated violent resistance to the British domination of the country.

Obama's grandfather

The Kenya Human Rights Commission has estimated 90,000 Kenyans were killed or maimed and 160,000 detained during the uprising.

Some of the 6,000 Africans rounded up in Kairobangi, Nairobi, by police searching for Mau Mau suspects, 27th April 1953. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Von: Keystone
Some of 6,000 Africans rounded up in April 1953 by police searching for Mau Mau suspectsImage: Getty Images

The detained included US President Barack Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama.

London tried for three years to block the Mau Mau veterans' legal action in the courts, drawing condemnation from the elderly torture victims who accused Kenya's former colonial master of using legal technicalities to fight the case.

Britain had first said that responsibility for events during the Mau Mau uprising passed to Kenya upon its independence in 1963, an argument which London courts rejected.

The government then said the claim was brought long after the legal time limit. But a judge in October's ruling said there was ample documentary evidence to make a fair trial possible.

The announcement by the British government may raise questions about compensation by other former colonial powers.

Mark Stephens, a UK-based human rights lawyer, told DW's Africalink show that "Germany's got problems, but I think France has a much, much bigger problem with the rather systemic torture that took place in Algeria. It is part of the healing process that someone in authority should stand up on behalf of the state and acknowledge that a wrong was done."

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