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Why The British Army’s Unrelenting Human Rights Abuses In Kenya Are A Cause For Alarm

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By Vanencia Otieno

For many years, the British army has conducted training exercises in central Kenya. Occasionally, these exercises are done jointly with the Kenyan army. This is just one of many symbiotic partnerships and shared heritage between Great Britain and Kenya that has lasted for decades. However, unrelenting reports of grotesque human rights abuses and the subsequent deliberate attempts at cover-up is cause for alarm. The trail of dead bodies, rape victims, maiming, and assaults being committed by the British army has been normalized for years now even as host communities push to have proper investigations into some of the horrific abuses.

The British Army Training Unit in Kenya (Batuk) in Nanyuki has now become a symbol of brutality and impunity. There was much fanfare when it was established decades ago as locals saw it as an opportunity to bolster economic activity and increase the profile of the host area; for a long time, it seemed so. As time went by, however, this dream gradually turned into a forgettable nightmare as the surrounding area became ground for multiple human rights abuses.

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The unrelenting human rights abuses prompted the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHCR) to submit a formal request to Kenya’s National Assembly directing it to hold the British army operating in Central Kenya to account for multiple cases of human abuse.

Multiple incidences of murder, rape, and exploitation by BATUK were cited in the KNHCR report presented to the Defence Foreign Relations Committee. KNHCR has received a total of 43 complaints of human rights abuses by BATUK as at March this year.

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Notably, the report submitted by KNHRC cites lack of justice where the army has been accused of committing different crimes including murder, rape, maiming and assault. This has led to general mistrust by the host community as reported cases are brushed aside as the British army carries its activities unfazed.

The ongoing cases of human rights abuses got national and international attention after news of the brutal murder of a young woman in 2012 resurfaced. The subsequent uproar led to an surface investigation but the lack of accountability by the British servicemen, past and present, remains the crucial stumbling block in attempts to procure justice for those affected by the monstrosity.

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The murdered young woman, Agnes Wanjiru, was a 21-year-old Kenyan mother of one, had accompanied the British army servicemen to a party in a hotel in Nanyuki.Her body was later found by a hotel worker two months after she was killed. The body had been stuffed into a nearby septic tank with her bra as the only piece of clothing on her body. She was mother to a five-month-old baby and occasionally turned to sex work to support herself and her baby. An investigation into her killing concluded that she was killed by one or more British Army servicemen. It has widely been reported that BATUK servicemen joked about it on social media with some making references to the septic tank she was dumped in; how none of them has been brought to book is as puzzling as it is disturbing.

12-year-old Agnes Wanjiru’s daughter Stacy Wanjiru (L), Agnes Wanjiru’s sister Rose Wanyua (C) and Agnes Wanjiru’s niece Esther Njoki (R) at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi on November 29, 2023. (Photo by LUIS TATO / AFP

Mysteriously, it took pressure from the British media for investigations to be opened and her family to get assurances that her killers would be brought to book; more than ten years on, this is yet to happen. What’s worse is that The Times reported that whoever is responsible was reported to senior members of BATUK but nothing was done about it.

A fair trial is not impossible at this time, all that is required is proper corporation from British Army servicemen currently in Kenya as well as those who were present at the time of the incident. Justice has been delayed and denied but this does not been it should painfully be made completely unavailable. Agnes’ family and lawyers involved in the case have said there is a clear and concerted effort by authorities in Kenya and the British Army servicemen to prevent them from accessing corridors of justice in the UK; an investigation into who is responsible should also aim to address the question of why access to justice is being blocked.

Besides Agnes’ terrible story and deliberate cover ups, there is also the case of Lisoka Lesasuyan who lost both arms to an unexploded bomb while crossing a field used military exercises by the British army. As usual, there has been no accountability at all from the British army servicemen in Kenya over this incident.

Lesasuyan was 13 when an unexploded bomb detonated on a field used for mortar practice by British and Kenyan soldiers in central Kenya. Lesasuyan lost both arms below the elbow, part of his right eye, and suffered burns and hearing loss in the blast.

In 2003, Amnesty International said it had documented 650 allegations of rape against British soldiers stationed in central Kenya in what it called “decades of impunity.”

What is sad is that the British Army servicemen stationed in the country neither acknowledge these findings nor offer any support to independent investigations. This has morphed into a cycle of impunity that needs to be called out.

During King Charles’ visit to Nairobi last November, police barred human rights defenders from holding protests to demand his apology for crimes committed by the British troops in Kenya.

In 2021, a mysterious fire broke out and destroyed almost a quarter of Lolldaiga conservancy where the British Army does training. The fire, which broke out as a result of military exercise, destroyed about 12,000 acres of land at the Lolldaiga conservancy in central Kenya, home to animals such as elephants, buffalos, lions, hyenas, jackals and the endangered Grevy’s zebra.

Smoke from the wildfire billows in Lolldaiga Hills, Kenya March 26, 2021. The fire was caused by British Army drills in the conservancy. Photo/Reuters

In the ensuing events, a man was crushed to death by a vehicle as he rushed to help put out a fire at a Kenyan wildlife sanctuary which was hosting a training exercise by the British army. Despite all the publicity over the fire in March, his death has not previously been acknowledged. The man’s widow has now wants a speedy investigation into how her husband died and the cause of the fire, and for the findings to be made public. Multiple people suffered burning eyes while others were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

The official cause of the fire that lasted for more than 4 days has not been made public but the incident is at the centre of an environmental lawsuit brought by a lobby group and almost 1,000 local residents.

The wanton environmental destruction and impunity by British Army servicemen has seen an unprecedented ecological degradation as well as violation of host communities’ right to a clean and healthy environment, home invasion by wildlife escaping artillery fire at the Lolldaiga conservancy, destruction of water catchment areas and unprecedented noise pollution. It remains to be seen how fast the lobby group’s lawsuit can be resolved and whether the British Army will bear any responsibility.

As lobby groups and lawyers continue fighting for justice for victims of the British Army’s actions in Kenya, increased accountability and responsibility from British Army servicemen will go a long way in helping close some decades-old cases that have run cold, alongside hundreds of dreams of those affected in and around the area.

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James Musoba
James Musoba
Studying Africa's startup and technology scene. I always look forward to discovering new exciting inventions and vibrant entrepreneurs.

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