Three elderly Kenyans began a court battle on Monday to win damages from the British government for brutality they claim they suffered at the hands of British troops during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising.
The two-week hearing at London's High Court opens a year after a British judge ruled that Jane Muthoni Mara, Paulo Muoka Nzili and Wambugu Wa Nyingi could sue the government over allegations of atrocities including castration and torture.
The trio's lawyers say Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling intercourseual abuse in detention camps during the bloody Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule.
“We are pleased that finally our clients will be able to tell the court their story,” their solicitor Martyn Day said ahead of the hearing.
“The British government has thrown everything at these claims in an effort to derail them on technicalities.
“We are confident that justice will be done.”
A fourth claimant, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, has died since the High Court ruling in July last year that the test case could go ahead.
The British government is expected to argue that the claims cannot proceed because they have been brought outside the legal time limit.
But the Kenyans' lawyers, who are bringing the claims with the support of the Kenyan government and Kenya Human Rights Commission, will argue that it is an exceptional case.
The hearing will have access to an archive of 8 000 secret files that were sent back to Britain after Kenya became independent in 1963.
Opening the case for the Kenyans, their barrister Richard Hermer said the existence of thousands of official records meant a fair trial was possible, despite the passage of time and the death of some witnesses.
“It is going to take a long time, cost a lot of money and occupy court time,” Hermer warned, urging the judge not to let this influence his conclusions given the seriousness of the allegations.
Lawyers say the claimants, who are in their 70s and 80s, want an apology and a welfare fund to ensure that around 1 000 surviving former detainees can have some dignity in their old age.
More than 10 000 people died during the 1952-1960 Mau Mau uprising, with some sources giving much higher estimates of the number killed.
Tens of thousands were detained, including US President Barack Obama's grandfather.
But when judge Richard McCombe ruled last year that the Kenyans could sue the government, he stressed that he had not found evidence of systematic torture in the Kenyan camps.
South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu has written to Prime Minister David Cameron accusing Britain of neglecting its human rights duties over the case.
The retired archbishop said Britain's unwillingness to make amends is “strongly out of step with many other modern democracies that have been faced with historic allegations of abusive conduct”. – Sapa-AFP IOLSA