Britain's former empire could face trial on charges stemming from empire's rule decades ago
A historic legal ruling in London today could leave Britain's government facing dozens of new court cases alleging systematic torture by the officers of its former empire dating back decades.
Three Kenyans who say Britain's imperial administration beat, raped, or castrated them in the 1950s have won the right to take their allegations to a full trial after a three-year legal battle. The claimants are asking for compensation and a government apology.
The High Court in London dismissed arguments from Britain's Foreign Office that a fair trial was impossible because many potential witnesses have died and because the events in question happened so long ago.
“It's a seismic ruling, with implications in multiple other former British colonial territories,” says Caroline Elkins, a Harvard University professor and author of “Imperial Reckoning,” a study of Britain's conduct during its imperial administration in Kenya.
“This case didn't come out of thin air. There are other colonial theaters — Palestine, Northern Ireland, Malaya, Aden, Cyprus — where a very similar kind of systematic brutality and violence played out,” Ms. Elkins says.
“The High Court has stated that, even 50 years later, governments can be held accountable for their actions. While it does not say that they will be, or what the outcome will be, it opens the door for these other cases to start too,” Elkins says.
In his ruling, Justice Richard McCombe said there was enough potential evidence in Britain's imperial archives available to both prosecution and defense to permit legal action to move forward.
“The documentation is voluminous ... the governments and military commanders seem to have been meticulous record keepers,” Justice McCombe said when reading the ruling aloud in court.
“I have reached the conclusion ... that a fair trial on this part of the case does remain possible and that the evidence on both sides remains significantly cogent for the court to complete its task satisfactorily,” McCombe said.
Martyn Day, the British lawyer representing the three Kenyans, called the court's decision today “historic” and said it would “reverberate around the world.”
“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.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- U.S.-backed rebels push forward in southern Syria
- Hong Kong protest leader Wong an unlikely icon
- After 2,000 years, China finally will end state monopoly on salt
- Russian doctors rebel over health reform
- Dozens killed in bombing attack on Nigerian mosque
- Ukraine aims to ride reform to European Union
- U.S. military shifts strategy to smaller Iraq force
- Lack of money may crush ISIS
- Egypt’s fixation on dictator Mubarak trial wanes
- Islamic State drive for Kobani blunted
- 2-month Hong Kong occupation near end