Britain agrees to pay Mau Mau Sh1.8 billion over torture

Kenya: Britain has agreed on a Sh1.8 billion compensation settlement for thousands of Kenyanstortured by colonial forces during the Mau Mau uprising, a lawyer and expert witness said on Wednesday.

According to London’s Guardian newspaper, the historic compensation payment will be officially announced today at an occasion in which Britainwill express its “sincere regret” for the tortureinflicted upon thousands of people imprisoned during Kenya’s Mau Mau insurgency.

In a statement to MPs, WilliamHague, foreign secretary, is expected to announce payments of £2,600 (Sh340,000) each to more than 5,000 survivors of the vast network of prison camps that the British authorities established across its colony during the bloody 1950s conflict: a total of about £13.9m (Sh1.82 billion).

After weeks of negotiations with lawyers representing three elderly former prisoners who brought a series of test cases in the high court in London, the government has agreed also to fund the construction of a memorial in Nairobi to Kenya’s victims of colonial-era torture.

Negotiations began after a London court ruled in October that three elderly Kenyans, who suffered castration, rape and beatings while in detention during a crackdown by British forces and their Kenyan allies in the 1950s, could sue Britain.

The torture took place during the so-called Kenyan “Emergency” of 1952-60, when fighters from theMau Mau movement attacked British targets, causing panic among white settlers and alarming the government in London.

“We have agreed on an out-of-court settlement,” Kenyan lawyer Paul Muite, an advisor to the Mau Mau veterans seeking compensation, told Reuters.

“(The negotiations) have included everybody with sufficient evidence of torture. And that number is about 5,200,” he said.

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

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

Courts rejected

Caroline Elkins, a Harvard history professor who acted as an expert witness in the case launched in 2009, said the settlement would be the first of its kind for the former British Empire.

“(It) should be seen as a triumph,” Elkins told Reuters during a visit to Nairobi for the British announcement.

Elkins wrote the book ‘Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya’ which served as the basis for the Mau Mau 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

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