10 DECEMBER

GENERAL ERSKINE WARNS AGAINST INQUIRY INTO BRITISH CRIMES IN KENYA

10 December 1953 – In a letter to the War Office, General Erskine admits that he is all too aware that the police and army in Kenya have frequently resorted to summary executions and torture against Mau Mau insurgency suspects.

“There is no doubt that in the early days, i.e. from October 1952 until last June there was a great deal of indiscriminate shooting by Army and Police. I am quite certain prisoners were beaten to extract information. It is a short step from beating to torture and I am now sure, although it has taken me some time to realise it, that torture was a feature of many police posts.”(1)

General Erskine also claimed that settlers were “operating a private army,” donning police uniforms to massacre those Kenyans they suspected of having any link to the Mau Mau insurgency.(2)  Nevertheless, he strongly recommended that the British government  should not initiate any independent inquiry into crimes committed against the Kenyan population.

“I very much hope it will not be necessary for HMG to send out an independent inquiry. If they did they would have to investigate everything from the beginning of the Emergency and I think the revelation would be shattering.”(3)

BRITAIN DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN ADEN

10 December 1963 – Britain’s high commissioner, Kennedy Trevaskis, declared a state of emergency in Yemen in order to crush a nationalist insurgency against British rule. Within hours the British army was rounding up dozens of trade union officials and members of Yemen’s People’s Socialist Party. (4)

The emergency laws gave Trevaskis and his successor, Sir Richard Turnbull, the authority to order the detention of individuals for an indefinite period without trial subject only to six monthly reviews by a “special tribunal.” The Emergency Laws were condemned by the United Nations, the Arab League and the International Labour Organisation. (5)

During the initial period after arrest suspects would usually be kept isolated for lengthy periods often exceeding a month before being moved to detention centres.  Many reports surfaced of the British using the most appalling forms of torture to extract confessions.  After interviewing former detainees and the relatives of those still being held, Amnesty International listed in a 1966 report, the most common forms of abuse inflicted on those detained. These were

  1. Undressing the detainees and making them stand naked during interrogation.
  2. Keeping the detainees naked in super-cooled cells with air conditioners and fans running at the highest speed.
  3. keeping the detainees awake by irritating them until they are exhausted.
  4. Offering food to hungry detainees and removing it just as they start eating.
  5. Forcing the detainees to sit on poles directed towards
    their anus.
  6. Hitting and twisting their genital organs.
  7. Extinguishing cigarettes on their skin.
  8. Forcing them to run in circles until they are exhausted.
  9. Banning visits to lavatories so that they soil their cells
    with faeces and urine.
  10. Keeping them in filthy toilets with the floor covered with
    urine and faeces.(6)

 

FOOTNOTES

  1. Quoted in “Witness Statement of Huw Charles Bennett,” in Ndiku Mutua and Others V Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Claim no: HQ09X02666 p29 https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Dr-Bennett-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf
  2. “Army Tortured Mau Mau Rebels in 1950s,” The Guardian, 5 February 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/feb/05/kenya.freedomofinformation
  3. Quoted in “Witness Statement of Huw Charles Bennett,” in Ndiku Mutua and Others V Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Claim no: HQ09X02666 p29 https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Mau%20Mau/Historian%20witness%20statements/Dr-Bennett-3rd-statement-FINAL.pdf?ext=.pdf
  4. Aaron Edwards (2015), “Mad Mitch’s Tribal Law: Aden and the End of Empire,” Penguin, London, p61-62.
  5. S. Rastgeldi “Amnesty International Aden Report” accessed online at https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/204000/mde270021966eng.pdf
  6. Amnesty International Report, Ibid, p10.

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