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Delay in Nairobi court hearing over Kenyan death linked to British military sparks calls for justice

In a significant development in Nairobi, a court hearing commenced on Wednesday regarding the tragic 2012 death of Agnes Wanjiru, a 21-year-old Kenyan mother. However, the proceedings were unexpectedly postponed until May, eliciting strong criticism from Wanjiru’s family, who have been seeking justice for over a decade.

Agnes Wanjiru’s demise has cast a shadow over the British Army’s presence in Kenya. Her body was discovered in a septic tank after she was reportedly seen partying with British soldiers at a hotel in Nanyuki, home to a British army garrison. This incident has raised critical questions about the conduct of foreign military personnel and the jurisdictional complexities involved.

The case resurfaced in the public eye when The Sunday Times, in October 2021, reported a shocking confession by a British soldier, claiming responsibility for Wanjiru’s killing and allegedly showing her body to his comrades. This revelation, however, reportedly did not lead to any substantial action by military superiors, sparking outrage and demands for accountability.

Kenyan authorities, spurred by the media exposé, announced the reopening of the investigation, which initially commenced in 2019 but had not yielded any public results. Meanwhile, Wanjiru’s family, determined to seek justice, has filed a lawsuit not only against the British army but also against various Kenyan legal, police, and political officials over her death.

The adjournment of the hearing was met with profound disappointment by Wanjiru’s family. Esther Njiko, Wanjiru’s niece, expressed her dismay to AFP, accusing the authorities of a potential cover-up and voicing frustration over the delayed justice process.

This case has brought into focus the long-standing presence of the British Army Training Unit in Kenya (BATUK) in Nanyuki, a region that has historically been economically dependent on the military base. However, incidents like Wanjiru’s death have ignited criticism and debates over the influence and accountability of foreign military forces in Kenya.

In a statement to the Nairobi court, Colonel Andrew Wilde, BATUK commander, emphasized the UK government’s stance of not consenting to the jurisdiction of the Kenyan court, stating that there was no cover-up by the UK Ministry of Defence or the government. This response highlights the ongoing diplomatic tensions between London and Nairobi regarding the jurisdiction over British soldiers who violate Kenyan law.

Dr. Iain Overton of AOAV commented on the situation, emphasising the need for transparency and justice:”This case underscores the complexities in international military operations and the urgent necessity for accountability when local laws are potentially violated. The delay in the court proceedings is disappointing, and it’s imperative that all parties involved cooperate fully to ensure a fair and timely resolution. It’s crucial for all entities involved to engage in a transparent and expedited judicial process.”

The case of Agnes Wanjiru is not just a matter of legal and diplomatic debate; it is a poignant reminder of the human cost of international military engagements and the often-overlooked voices of victims and their families.