Published June 19, 2014
SUNY Buffalo Law School Dean Makau W. Mutua is hailing a historic British declaration of “regret” and decision to compensate thousands of victims of horrific torture and other inhumane atrocities committed by the British Empire during its colonization of Kenya.
The June 6 announcement culminates a decade-long lawsuit filed in English courts by the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Mutua is board chairman of the commission, which he co-founded in 1991. The KHRC initiated the case in 2002 during Mutua’s sabbatical period in his native Kenya.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the U.K. Parliament that a total of about $30 million would be paid to 5,228 Mau Mau victims and said his government “sincerely regrets” the atrocities. It is notable that the British did not “apologize” for the atrocities because an “apology” could connote an acceptance of legal liability which could trigger law suitsuits from British colonial brutalities elsewhere.
During the period before Kenya became independent in 1963, British colonial officials persecuted thousands of Kenyans who resisted colonial rule. The British colonial forces killed thousands of Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising of 1952 to 1956, the armed movement against the British colonial government.. In detention camps established by the European settlers, supposed Mau Mau sympathizers were subjected to atrocities including castration, rape and repeated violence.
“I have never been more proud of the Kenya Human Rights Commission,” Mutua said following the British announcement. “We started the long journey to hold the British accountable for the colonial atrocities they committed in Kenya way back in 2002. This settlement sets a historic precedent that colonialism and its brutalities were morally and legally wrong, and that former colonial empires are culpable and liable for their crimes against colonized peoples.
“I am so pleased that the surviving Mau Mau freedom fighters are alive to see Britain ‘express regret’ and compensate them for the crimes against humanity and war crimes committed to suppress the cry for freedom. I hope that other former colonies will be inspired by the Kenyan example to seek justice.”
The British admission is believed to be the first such settlement on colonial brutality.
According to President Obama’s book Dreams From My Father, his Kenyan grandfather Onyango was held in one such detention camp for six months. “When he returned … he was very thin and dirty. He had difficulty walking, and his head was full of lice,” Obama wrote.
The British foreign secretary told Parliament that the U.K. “recognizes that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration. The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya's progress towards independence.”
As part of the settlement, the British government also agreed to support the construction of a permanent memorial in Kenya.
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