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Kenyan victims of colonial torture win right to sue UK

By Faith Karimi and Lillian Leposo, CNN
October 5, 2012 -- Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Nairobi lawyer to file lawsuit on behalf of more colonial-era fighters
  • NEW: Britain says it will appeal the ruling
  • NEW: Jubilant ex-colonial fighters weep and dance
  • Britain does not deny that its colonial forces tortured detainees

(CNN) -- Three Kenyans tortured during a colonial-era rebellion can sue the United Kingdom for compensation, a London high court ruled Friday, potentially opening floodgates of abuse claims dating to the British Empire.

The plaintiffs said they endured torture at the hands of British forces, including castration, brutal beatings and detention. The abuse occurred during Kenya's struggle for independence about six decades ago.

In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, jubilant colonial-era fighters, balancing on walking sticks, gingerly danced after the ruling thousands of miles away.

Others prayed and wept.

"It's a great day. I am as happy as the day I was released" from the detention camp, said Wambugu Wa Nyingi, one of the three. "We believe that they (the UK) will do the right thing, now that they have accepted that it's the truth."

The other plaintiffs are Paulo Muoka Nzili and Jane Muthoni Mara, who are in their 70s and 80s. All three are in Kenya and did not attend the hearing in London. A fourth one died before the ruling.

Soon after the verdict, Nairobi lawyer Donald Rabala announced plans to file a lawsuit Monday on behalf of hundreds of colonial-era fighters.

The abuse occurred from 1952 to 1961, when fighters from the Mau Mau movement battled British forces for land and freedom. Colonial forces killed thousands of fighters and detained others, including Kenyans who were not part of the rebel group.

The African nation went on to gain independence from Britain in 1963.

Britain does not deny its colonial forces tortured detainees but had argued that a fair trial is impossible because the events occurred decades ago. It plans to appeal the ruling.

"The normal time limit for bringing a civil action is three to six years," the UK Foreign Office said in a statement. "In this case, that period has been extended to over 50 years despite the fact that the key decision makers are dead and unable to give their account of what happened."

The ruling will spark lawsuits from other nations colonized by Britain and will reverberate worldwide for years to come, said Martyn Day, a lawyer for the trio.

"The judgment means the government will now have to face potentially thousands of claims from Kenyans who suffered similar torture," the plaintiffs' lawyers said in a statement.

Last year, the London high court ruled that the UK government is the right entity to sue. Before that ruling, Britain had argued that it transferred the powers and liabilities of the colonial administration to Kenya after independence.

In July, the British government conceded for the first time that Kenyans had been tortured during the fight for independence.

CNN's Laura Perez Maestro contributed to this report.

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