According to a BBC report, two Kenyan tribes have taken the United Kingdom to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over allegations of colonial abuses. In the lawsuit, the Talai and Kipsigis allege that land theft in Kericho, the tea-growing region of Africa, where land is still controlled by tea-producing companies, is one example of such abuses. The indigenous groups demand USD 200 billion and an official apology for the atrocities committed against them. In the final days of colonial rule, the tribes claimed they were tortured while being forcibly removed from their prosperous lands.
Kipsigis and Talai were evicted by British settlers from Kericho, now a central tea-growing province cultivated by multinational corporations. They made the decision to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, where they will ask for the British government’s apology and compensation. To make way for commercially viable tea plantations owned by settlers, the British army forcefully removed over 100,000 members of these groups between 1895 and 1963, abandoning many unable to return to their homes and ancestral lands. The groups argue that this “cruel and unjust” treatment violated the international obligations of the United Kingdom.
By disregarding the victims and their complaints, the UK government has violated the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a signatory, according to attorneys for those expelled from Kenya’s Rift Valley. Joel Kimutai Bosek, who represents the Kipsigis and Talai peoples, stated on Tuesday, “The British government has dodged and ducked, sadly avoiding every possible avenue of redress. We are compelled to represent our clients in court to rectify the past.”
This lawsuit was filed weeks after Kenya petitioned the royal family for compensation for the atrocities after the British government declined to meet with the victims. The governor of Kericho County, Professor Paul Kiprono Chepkwony, backed the initiative and stated, “Today is a historic day. The Kericho County Government has worked tirelessly for years to obtain an apology, justice, and restitution for what has been done to our people. We have taken all reasonable and respectful measures. The British government, however, has given us the cold shoulder.”
The Hardships of the Kenyans
The Kenyan tribes claim they were subjected to torture when they were forcibly evicted from their fertile land during the final days of British colonial rule to make way for plantations. The complainants also claimed that they were forced to live in a valley infested with mosquitoes, tsetse flies, and other insects as “punishment for resisting.” The Talai further asserted that their bites caused deaths, miscarriages, and a massive loss of livestock. The Kenyan tribes returned to Kenya following the country’s independence in 1963, but they could not reclaim their land from tea companies.
“Today, some of the world’s most prosperous tea companies, such as Unilever, Williamson Tea, Finlay’s, and Lipton, occupy and farm these lands and continue to generate substantial profits,” the Kenyan tribes said in court documents reported by Metro. In addition, they have alleged the British army of unlawful executions, rapes, torture, and imprisonment, but this will not be the focus of the lawsuit, according to the news source.
The Kenyan tribes have brought this issue to the international community’s attention. In 2019, the claims were first brought to the attention of the United Nations, after which an investigation was initiated. The BBC reported in 2021 that six UN special rapporteurs expressed concern over the “alleged lack of accountability” in a joint communique. In response, the British government stated that they had apologized in 2013 and agreed to compensate Kenyans who had been tortured during a 1950s uprising. However, the Kipsigis and Talai maintain that the case referenced by the British government in its response is separate, as reported by the outlet.
Now the victims have been assisted in submitting complaints to the United Nations, where special rapporteurs have demanded that the United Kingdom examine human rights violations and provide remedies, including an apology and restitution. However, the call was not returned. Joel Kimutai Bosek stated, “We have petitioned the esteemed European Court of Human Rights for recognition of the wrongdoings and accountability.”
Dickson Sitienei, a seventy-year-old victim represented in the case, spoke to The Independent about the arduous struggle that has underpinned their pursuit of justice. “It has been extremely difficult to feel ignored by the British government for so long in light of the terrible things they have done to us,” he said. “We have fought for many years to have our voices heard, and if they believe we will forget what they did, they are mistaken.”