, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 26 – The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) said on Tuesday that it would be challenging the decision by the British government to strike out claims by Kenyan victims of British colonial torture on grounds of State succession.
The Commission’s Executive Director Muthoni Wanyeki told reporters that the position taken by the British government on the matter is “legally challengeable and morally repugnant.”
“We are afraid that by seeking to invoke a legal technicality in its defence as opposed to relying on substance of the Mau Mau suit, the British Government is either knowingly or unknowingly waging a war of attrition on the Mau Mau torture survivors,” Ms Wanyeki said at a press conference.
“Most of these survivors are now quite advanced in age and don’t have a long time to live. In fact, one of the lead claimants, Susan Ngondi passed away. We contend that the Mau Mau torture survivors have waited for too long for justice and the time to get justice is now,” she added.
“A group of leading human rights organisations, politicians and international lawyers will be writing to David Miliband (UK Foreign Secretary) to protest at the position his Government has adopted.”
“Another group of international legal experts is planning to meet at a specially convened conference at the School of Oriental and African Studies next month to establish a clear legal strategy for defeating the Government’s strike out application,” she said.
Court documents provided to us by the Commission showed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had applied to strike out the case on grounds that the Kenya government is the one supposed to pay for the torture claims because the British government had passed on the responsibility.
Ms Wanyeki said: “That is absolutely not acceptable; torture has never been a core duty of the State. So it is crazy to imply that it is the core duty passed on to our government.”
She said the claims are on behalf of men and women from different Kenyan communities who are representative of the wider community of thousands of Kenyans who were detained and tortured during the Kenya Emergency period.
“Detainees suspected of being members of, or sympathising with the Mau Mau rebellion were subjected to unspeakable abuses including arbitrary killings, castrations, sexual abuse, forced labour, starvation and the systematic use of violence,” she said.
On June 23, 2009, she said: “The victims travelled 4,000 miles to London from rural Kenya in order to issue the claims at the High Court in person and to deliver a letter to the Prime Minister.” They were represented by Leigh, Day & Co which was instructed by the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
One of the claimants, Ndiku Mutua, is quoted in documents given to journalists saying: “I was castrated and tortured whilst I was detained by British prison guards. It devastated my life. To be told that the British Government are claiming this is somehow Kenya’s responsibility is beyond belief. I am not asking for much, I just want an acknowledgement of the torture I was subjected to so that some of my dignity is restored before I die.”
Martyn Day, a Senior Partner at Leigh, Day and Company is quoted in the statement read by Wanyeki saying: “It is deeply disappointing that the British Government is refusing to deal with the substance of this case. To seek to pin the liability for British Government torture onto the Kenyan government is an appalling stance for the Government to take and I fear it will seriously affect Britain’s reputation as a champion of human rights.”
He adds: “Our concern is that many of these elderly victims will die while this arcane legal point is being argued in the courts.”