The British Government has admitted publicly for the first time that Kenyans were tortured and sexually abused by colonial forces during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s.

The admission came as a trio of elderly Kenyans told a court how they were beaten, castrated and sexually assaulted by British troops and their Kenyan allies during the pro-independence rebellion.

The three plaintiffs are suing the Government in a landmark legal case, which could lead to a deluge of compensation claims from victims of British colonial violence around the world.

As the first of the three witnesses took the stand at the High Court yesterday, the Government's defence lawyer, Guy Mansfield, QC, said: "I wish to make it clear before I cross-examine the three claimants that the defendant [the British Government] does not dispute that each of the claimants suffered torture and other ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration."


The Mau Mau rebellion occurred between 1952-1960, resulting in thousands of deaths as Kenyans began agitating for independence. Atrocities were committed by both sides, with widespread complaints of systematic torture and abuse carried out in a network of British-run prison camps.

Given the advanced age of the three witnesses and their inability to speak English, most of yesterday's testimony revolved around the two men and one woman publicly confirming that their statements were accurate. Their written accounts make for harrowing reading and paint a grim picture of how colonial forces behaved in East Africa after World War II.

Paulo Nzili, 83, from eastern Kenya, was working on a white settler's farm when he was abducted by Mau Mau fighters in 1957 and forced into their independence struggle. He ran away after six months but was arrested on the outskirts of Nairobi. He testified that he was taken to Embakasi, a notorious prison camp run by a sadistic police officer called Dunman, who was known for castrating suspected Mau Mau fighters.

Running away from the movement was no defence. On the fourth day inside the camp, Nzili was publicly castrated with a pair of pliers normally used on cattle.

Human rights groups say numerous Kenyans have testified to being castrated at camps run by Dunman and other detention centres. The evidence also details how sexual violence towards women was rampant in British-controlled custody.

The Government is trying to have the Kenyans' case thrown out, arguing that as so much time has passed between the events and legal action it would be impossible to have a fair trial. The hearing continues.

- Independent