LONDON — It is a court case that could reverberate round the world: Three elderly Kenyans are suing the U.K. government for torture inflicted by the colonial regime during the African country’s struggle for independence.
If the Kenyans win — a ruling on the case is expected later this week — claims from others involved in the so-called Mau Mau uprising are highly likely and experts say it could set a precedent that would help victims of abuses in other countries that were once part of the British Empire.
The court case could also attract the attention of President Barack Obama. In his book “Dreams From My Father,” Obama said he was told by his step-grandmother Sarah that his Kenyan grandfather Onyango was held for six months in a detention camp by the colonial authorities. “When he returned … he was very thin and dirty. He had difficulty walking, and his head was full of lice,” Obama wrote.
Compared to his compatriots seeking compensation from the U.K., Onyango Obama got off lightly: In court, the two men and a woman described being savagely beaten, castrated, sexually assaulted, and witnessing killings during British rule in the 1950s.
Such stories are not confined to the former British Empire.
France, for example, has refused to apologize for its actions as former colony Algeria struggled for independence in the 1950s and early 1960s, with former president Nicolas Sarkozy saying “repentance” had “no place in our relations.”
And Germany only finally said sorry for a particularly extreme case of genocide by German forces in Namibia on the 100th anniversary of the massacre of tens of thousands of Herero people. Germany does pay aid to Namibia, but has to date refused to compensate the Herero directly.
The United States also has a colonial past with Spain handing over Philippines in 1898. Some, as noted by Filipino academic E. San Juan Jr., say the resulting Philippine-American War saw the deaths of about 1.4 million Filipinos while others put the toll in the hundreds of thousands. Despite this, Philippines and the U.S. have close relations and many Filipinos have positive feelings toward Americans.
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