By Poly Pantelides
DOZENS of Cypriot veterans of the 1955-59 EOKA struggle against British colonial authorities are ready to launch legal procedures in the UK following an official admission in Britain that thousands were tortured during Kenya’s Mau Mau insurgency between 1952 and 1963.
British foreign secretary William Hague yesterday expressed “sincere regret” for the torture and ill-treatment Kenyans suffered under the colonial administration.
However because the British government settled out of court – offering 19.9 million British pounds (about €23.4 million) to 5,228 Kenyan prison camp survivors – Hague said the courts had made no finding of liability against the government in this case.
“And we do not believe that this settlement establishes a precedent in relation to any other former British colonial administration,” he added.
Solicitors for the Kenyan survivors brought a series of test cases to the UK High Court and were given the go-ahead last year to pursue claims for damages against the government.
Lawyers for Cypriot veterans of the EOKA struggle have been waiting to see how the Kenyan claims would be resolved before carrying on with action at their end.
“For us, this development is a point of reference,” said the head of the EOKA veterans’ association, Thassos Sophocleous.
His lawyer, who did not want to be named, said 65 EOKA veterans were willing to pursue legal procedures.
The official admission of regret and promise of payments to Kenyan prison camps’ survivors creates a precedent that may signal future practice, the lawyer said, despite Hague’s statement to the contrary.
In parallel to legal procedures to lead test cases to trial, the UK-based solicitors are expected to open negotiations with British authorities with a view to settling out of court on a similar basis to the Kenyan example.
Foreign office documents released in July last year described alleged claims of torture and abuse during the EOKA insurgency. Reports from that time speak of authorities’ killing a blind man and punching a pregnant woman who then miscarried, to telling a man dig his own grave. During that period, a British officer described a “hysterical mob” of 150 soldiers kicking Cypriots on the ground, and beating them in the head, face and body with rifle butts. In 1958, authorities rounded up 300 civilians and beat them, killing some in the process, another report said.
No one was held accountable for that incident, which came as a response to the murder of a British sergeant’s wife by EOKA insurgents.
“All EOKA fighters were tortured. Some to a lesser extent and others to a bigger extent,” Sophocleous said.
Survivors have been disabled, lost their hearing, and are still dealing with long-term psychological or physical problems, Sophocleous said.
He added that 14 EOKA fighters were killed during torture by the British. “(Hague’s statement) is a vindication at large since it is a fact that the English tortured people and used unacceptable methods,” Sophocleous said.
The Guardian yesterday called the Kenya settlement “a historically significant moment, representing the first major compensation payment arising from official crimes committed as Britain withdrew from its empire”
It said the move could also pave the way for further claims from around Britain’s former empire such as Cyprus.