With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on a legal settlement that the Government has reached concerning the claims of Kenyan citizens who lived through the Emergency Period and the Mau Mau insurgency from October 1952 to December 1963.
During the Emergency Period widespread violence was committed by both sides, and most of the victims were Kenyan. Many thousands of Mau Mau members were killed, while the Mau Mau themselves were responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 people including 200 casualties among the British regiments and police.
Emergency regulations were introduced: political organisations were banned; prohibited areas were created and provisions for detention without trial were enacted. The colonial authorities made unprecedented use of capital punishment and sanctioned harsh prison so-called ‘rehabilitation’ regimes. Many of those detained were never tried and the links of many with the Mau Mau were never proven. There was recognition at the time of the brutality of these repressive measures and the shocking level of violence, including an important debate in this House on the infamous events at Hola Camp in 1959.
We recognise that British personnel were called upon to serve in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Many members of the colonial service contributed to establishing the institutions that underpin Kenya today and we acknowledge their contribution.
However I would like to make clear now and for the first time, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved in the events of the Emergency in Kenya. The British Government recognises 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. Torture and ill treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity which we unreservedly condemn.
In October 2009 claims were first brought to the High Court by five individuals who were detained during the Emergency period regarding their treatment in detention.
In 2011 the High Court rejected the claimants’ argument that the liabilities of the colonial administration transferred to the British Government on independence, but allowed the claims to proceed on the basis of other arguments.
In 2012 a further hearing took place to determine whether the cases should be allowed to proceed. The High Court ruled that three of the five cases could do so. The Court of Appeal was due to hear our appeal against that decision last month.
However, I can announce today that the Government has now reached an agreement with Leigh Day, the solicitors acting on behalf of the Claimants, in full and final settlement of their clients’ claims.
The agreement includes payment of a settlement sum in respect of 5,228 claimants, as well as a gross costs sum, to the total value of £19.9 million. The Government will also support the construction of a memorial in Nairobi to the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era. The memorial will stand alongside others that are already being established in Kenya as the country continues to heal the wounds of the past. And the British High Commissioner in Nairobi is also today making a public statement to members of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association in Kenya, explaining the settlement and expressing our regret for the events of the Emergency Period.
Mr Speaker this settlement provides recognition of the suffering and injustice that took place in Kenya. The Government of Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Mau Mau War Veterans Association have long been in favour of a settlement, and it is my hope that the agreement now reached will receive wide support, will help draw a line under these events, and will support reconciliation.
We continue to deny liability on behalf of the Government and British taxpayers today for the actions of the colonial administration in respect of the claims, and indeed the courts have made no finding of liability against the Government in this case. We do not believe that claims relating to events that occurred overseas outside direct British jurisdiction more than fifty years ago can be resolved satisfactorily through the courts without the testimony of key witnesses that is no longer available. It is therefore right that the Government has defended the case to this point since 2009.
It is of course right that those who feel they have a case are free to bring it to the courts. However we will also continue to exercise our own right to defend claims brought against the Government. And we do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration.
The settlement I am announcing today is part of a process of reconciliation. In December this year, Kenya will mark its 50th anniversary of independence and the country’s future belongs to a post independence generation. We do not want our current and future relations with Kenya to be overshadowed by the past. Today we are bound together by commercial, security and personal links that benefit both our countries. We are working together closely to build a more stable region. Bilateral trade between the UK and Kenya amounts to £1 billion each year, and around 200,000 Britons visit Kenya annually.
Although we should never forget history and indeed must always seek to learn from it, we should also look to the future, strengthening a relationship that will promote the security and prosperity of both our nations. I trust that this settlement will support that process. The ability to recognise error in the past but also to build the strongest possible foundation for cooperation and friendship in the future are both hallmarks of our democracy.
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