Britain has agreed to compensate 5,228 elderly Kenyans who were tortured during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule in the 1950s, Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday.
Hague stopped short of a full apology, but offered Britain's "sincere regrets" for the abuses as he unveiled a compensation deal worth £19.9 million (HK$237 million). His statement follows a four-year legal battle in which Britain had sought to deny liability for the abuse, claiming legal responsibility had passed to the Kenyan government after independence in 1963.
"The British government recognises that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration," Hague told the House of Commons.
"The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya's progress towards independence," he added. "Torture and ill-treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity that we unreservedly condemn."
British law firm Leigh Day, which has pursued the case, welcomed the deal and said it had been agreed with all of its 5,228 Kenyan clients. If divided up equally, the payment per person is about £3,800, around five times the annual salary of a low-level Kenyan civil servant.
About 160 elderly Mau Mau gathered to hear the announcement, made simultaneously by the British high commissioner in Nairobi. "I'm thankful to heaven that we are still alive today to experience this and to be compensated for the atrocities that have been committed," said Habil Molo Ogola, 78.
He said he was detained while trying to help Mau Mau prisoners escape. He was held for three years, during which he was tortured. "I'm very grateful to the British for finally accepting to compensate us," he said.
Martyn Day, senior partner of Leigh Day, said "it takes courage to publicly acknowledge for the first time the terrible nature of Britain's past in Kenya".
Hague said Britain continued to deny liability and insisted that the settlement would not represent a precedent for any other colonial-era complaints. "It is of course right that those who feel they have a case are free to bring it to the courts," he said, but Britain would "also continue to exercise our own right to defend claims".