Monday, May 06, 2013

Doing the right thing

Between 1952 and 1956, the British waged a dirty colonial war in Kenya against the Mau Mau. Opponents of the colonial regime were detained in camps, deported to reserves, murdered, beaten, and tortured. Britain's own documents - unlawfully kept secret until last year - show the extent of their crimes, detailing beatings, castration, water torture, and prisoners being roasted alive. So much for the myth of the "good empire" which "withdrew peacefully"...

But now, faced with its own confession of its crimes, Britain is about to do the right thing, and compensate its colonial victims in Kenya:

The British government is negotiating payments to thousands of Kenyans who were detained and severely mistreated during the 1950s Mau Mau insurgency in what would be the first compensation settlement resulting from official crimes committed under imperial rule.

In a development that could pave the way for many other claims from around the world, government lawyers embarked upon the historic talks after suffering a series of defeats in their attempts to prevent elderly survivors of the prison camps from seeking redress through the British courts.


As a handful of details began to emerge last week from the confidential talks between lawyers for the government and the Mau Mau veterans, the FCO said it acknowledged the need for debate about Britain's past, and added: "It is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history." Up to 10,000 former prisoners may be in line for compensation, if the talks result in a settlement. Although the individual amounts will vary greatly, the total compensation is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds.

Good. The UK government has committed terrible crimes, and it must do what it can to make them right. Ideally I'd like to see those responsible prosecuted, but like their victims, many of them - and especially the old men who authored and authorised this barbaraism - are already dead. So the best they can do is compensate those victims who still remain, and tell the truth about what was done, so the whole world will know of it.

But the Kenyans aren't alone. Britain also waged similar wars in Cyprus, Guyana, Yemen and Malaysia in an effort to keep these countries in a dying empire for just a few more years. Their victims in those countries deseve truth and compensation as well. Hopefully, settling with the Mau Mau will be the first step towards their getting it.