Fifty years after Kenya's independence, the British high court opened the second part of a case brought by
three Kenyan nationals against the British government today. The trial sheds
light on Kenya's
gulags, a largely forgotten dark corner of England's colonial legacy.
The plaintiffs -- Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi
and Jane Muthoni Mara -- were formerly rebels during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial
rule. They allege that they were the
victims of torture and brutality at the hands of the British administration
during the "Kenya Emergency" that lasted from 1952-1960.
to the BBC, the "claimants' lawyers allege that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi
severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps
during the rebellion."
The fourth claimant in the original case, Ndiku Mutwiwa
Mutua, died in the interim between when the test case was ruled arguable in
July 2011 and the opening of the trial.
The lawyers for the Foreign
Commonwealth Office (FCO) have argued that the case should be struck down
because the lapse in time between the end of the insurgency and the current
proceedings is too great. However, a new cache of secret British documents
unveiled in April 2012 has shed new light on crimescommitted
in Kenya, as well as other former colonies -- and the decades-long effort
to cover them up.
The files - which had been
purposely withheld from the National Archives and illegally hidden at Hanslope
Park, an intelligence station -- were uncovered by historians working on the
Kenyans' case. Subsequently, the Foreign
Office released all of the records.
The documents include accounts
of British officials "roasting detainees alive" in Kenya. The colony's attorney
general in 1953, Eric Griffith-Jones, described the internment camps as
"distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist
Russia" -- yet nevertheless endorsed British policy, claiming that "if
we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."
The Kenyans first requested
the release of these documents in 1967, according
to an internal FCO review from February 2011 that was made public in May. The review, which explains how the Kenyan
request served as a blueprint for refusing such information to all former
colonies, details that the files were consciously concealed by the government.
They reasoned that releasing any information would set "a dangerous precedent"
which would make it "difficult to withhold un-reviewed and potentially sensitive
papers from other former colonies."
The Guardian confirmed that
the most incriminating of the documents were systematically
destroyed. Nevertheless, the remaining incriminating
files -- known within the FCO as the 'migrated archives' because they were
whisked out of colonial territories before the post-independence administration
could take power - total 8,800
files. The Kenyan documents alone total 294 boxes.
As the trial progresses, government
fears of "a dangerous precedent" may prove well-founded: this case might very well
open up avenues for other colonies to bring legal cases against the
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