Elderly Kenyans threaten UK colonial abuse lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Feb 08, 2012 12:30 PM
Elderly Kenyans threaten UK colonial abuse lawsuit

Thousands of elderly Kenyans are preparing to sue the British government over abuses _ including torture, illegal detentions and rape _ its forces allegedly committed during its suppression of a 1950s anti-colonial rebellion, a lawyer representing the group said Wednesday.

The group of Kenyans is motivated by the progress of a case by four other elderly Kenyans, who were given the go-ahead by a British court last year to sue the U.K. government for alleged abuses during its colonial occupation of Kenya, said lawyer Donald Rabala.

The British government had tried to have the case by the four thrown out, saying it could not be held legally responsible for the long-ago abuses. It argues that all the powers and liabilities of the colonial administration passed to the Kenyan government on independence in 1963.

Rabala said his firm has taken statements from more than 6,000 people who claim to have either been tortured, detained illegally, raped, forcefully displaced from their land, among other abuses.

Rabala said his firm, with the help of a U.K. law firm, is collecting more statements from Kenyans allegedly held by the British in detention camps after a 1952 uprising led by a militia group known as the Mau Mau. Britain imposed a state of emergency that lasted until 1959.

"The victims know some of the names of those who raped them, tortured them. They have scars and some have documents showing when they were incarcerated and where," Rabala said.

He said he expects the British government to settle the case out of court because if it goes to trial it will consume a lot of time and taxpayer money.

During the uprising in 1952, Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent British soldiers to help colonial administrators capture the Mau Mau fighters and send them to detention camps. African soldiers under the King's African Rifles regiment also took part in the assault on the Mau Mau and their supporters.

President Barack Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was one of thousands of Kenyans detained. Obama's grandfather died in 1979.

"It is right that those who feel they have a case are free to take it to the courts. We understand the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the emergency period in Kenya," a spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office said on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

"Our relationship with Kenya and its people has moved on since the emergency period. We are now partners and the U.K. is one of the largest bilateral donors in Kenya."

Among the 6,000 planning to sue is the wife of Dedan Kimathi, one of the most Mau Mau's most revered, Rabala said. British fighters arrested and hanged Kimathi. He has since been honored by the Kenyan government as a national hero.

His widow, Mukami Kimathi, was incarcerated by the British, according to Rabala, though he declined to go into the details of what she experienced during her detention.

The new potential cases were inspired by a ruling by British High Court Judge Richard McCombe, who last July found that the four Kenyans "have arguable cases in law," and their suits can go ahead.

Britain's Africa Minister Henry Bellingham said at the time that the government would continue to fight the claim, "given the length of time elapsed and the complex legal and constitutional questions the case raises."

He said Britain understood "the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the Emergency period in Kenya."

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Associated Press writer Meera Selva in London contributed to this report.