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Tortured Kenyans win historic ruling in Britain

Three tortured Kenyans who suffered abuses by British forces in the 1950s won the right to take their case to trial. The ruling could pave the way for future cases from Britain's former colonies.

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Martyn Day, the British lawyer representing the three Kenyans, called the court’s decision today “historic” and said it would “reverberate around the world.”

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"There will undoubtedly be victims of colonial torture from Malaya to the Yemen from Cyprus to Palestine who will be reading this judgment with great care,” Mr. Day said.

“The British Government … has been hiding behind technical legal defenses for three years in order to avoid any legal responsibility,” Day said. “Following this judgment we can but hope that our government will at last do the honorable thing and sit down and resolve these claims.”

Room for appeal

Dozens of elderly Kenyans gathered at a Nairobi human rights organization’s office to hear the judgment today, and ululated, clapped, and danced when it was announced.

“I hope … this means that the British government will finally come here to give us something to support our families and to help us,” Wa Nyingi told The Christian Science Monitor after the Justice’s decision. All three victims were present at the human rights organization’s office when the announcement was read. Wa Nyingi finds it hard to understand the delay in issuing an apology and compensation, he says.

“It is wrong that this thing is taking so long.”

But he may have to wait even longer. After the ruling was issued, the British government announced it would appeal the decision.

“It seems that their strategy is to continue to fight this thing on legal technicalities until we die, and then the matter will be closed,” says Gitu wa Kahengeri, the head of the Mau Mau Veterans’ Association.

“We are all old people, if they can delay two or three years, it will be too late.”

A fourth claimant, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died earlier this year.

South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on Britain to “show some compassion” following the ruling.

“The British Government must now resolve this issue once and for all,” Mr. Tutu said.

“They have admitted these elderly Kenyans were tortured by British officials but have refused to apologize or to show any concern for their welfare. The Courts have now rejected their legal defense twice in two years. It is high time the government stops avoiding responsibility and shows some compassion.”

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office explained the reason for appeal centers around the ruling’s “potentially significant and far reaching legal implications.”

“The normal time limit for bringing a civil action is 3 to 6 years,” the spokesman said.

“In this case, that period has been extended to over 50 years despite the fact that the key decision makers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened. Since this is an important legal issue, we have taken the decision to appeal.”

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