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Landmark inquiry raises allegations of human rights violations by British troops in Kenya

A landmark public inquiry into allegations of human rights violations by British troops in Kenya has been hearing “heartbreaking” testimony from those who say they were mistreated. Dozens of people have given evidence to the Kenyan parliamentary inquiry into the alleged misconduct of soldiers from the British Army Training Unit Kenya (Batuk). Among them are the family of a young woman allegedly disabled in a hit-and-run by a British Army truck, a mother who says she was abandoned when pregnant, and a man who was mauled by a lion in the wake of fires allegedly started on an army training exercise.

The Batuk base in Nanyuki, about 200km (125 miles) north of the capital, Nairobi, was established in 1964 shortly after the East African nation gained independence from the UK. Kenya’s Defence Minister Aden Duale has said that Kenya will seek prosecutions for any British soldier alleged to have broken the law during deployments over the decades.

The UK High Commission in Kenya told the BBC it was aware of the proceedings and that it – and Batuk – intended to cooperate with the inquiry.

Hundreds of people have this week flocked to the four public hearings held near the Batuk base to listen to emotional accounts of alleged misconduct by British soldiers.

Memusi Lochede testified that British officials promised to look after her 22-year-old daughter Chaula Memusi, who is in a wheelchair after allegedly being injured by a British army truck in a hit-and-run incident in January 2019.

“They sent a representative to tell me that they don’t want a court case and that they would take care of my daughter,” the 45-year-old mother said after one of the hearings held outdoors under a marquee in Archers Post, where the British army conducts infantry exercises.

Under an agreement with the Kenyan government, up to six infantry battalions per year carry out eight-week exercises in Kenya. Ms. Lochede said they paid for her daughter’s hospital bills for two years but had failed to pay compensation as promised.

Lino Lemaramba told the BBC he witnessed the accident and was shocked to see the British army truck drive away after the collision. He stopped to help Ms. Memusi.

“It was a Batuk truck, I tried to stop it but it kept moving,” he alleged. “It was a tragic scene, blood all over, her bones were crushed… people were afraid to touch her,” he said, describing how difficult it was to lift her into his pick-up and take her to the hospital.

Another emotional testimony at that hearing came from 28-year-old Generica Namoru, who was accompanied by her five-year-old daughter. She told members of the inquiry, established by Kenya’s parliamentary defense committee, that she became pregnant while she was in a consensual relationship with a British soldier stationed at Batuk. When she informed him she was pregnant, he ended the relationship and left Kenya, leaving her to raise the child by herself.

“All I want is child support so that my child can go to school and have [a] better future,” she said.

The hearings also heard evidence from a string of people who said they had suffered from serious health problems following a fire allegedly started by British soldiers during a training exercise being hosted at a wildlife sanctuary in 2021. The blaze, said to have lasted for four days, destroyed more than 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares) of land and left at least one person dead. Lipaso Legei, who was wearing a traditional Maasai outfit at the hearing, testified that he was lucky to be alive after being attacked by a lion that came closer to human settlements after the fire had destroyed its natural habitat.

“I was mauled by a lion. Under these shuka [Maasai cloth] I have injuries on my back, I nearly died.” He added that farming had also become impossible: “We can’t plant maize, animals keep invading, our dogs have been mauled by hyenas and leopards.”

Several people said they had developed serious respiratory and eye problems. Simon Kaburu presented his medical records to the MPs and explained that he had to have medication to deal with “chest problems after smoke inhalation”. More than 7,000 local people are believed to have started legal action against the British army following the fire.

The inquiry has largely been prompted by the shocking case of Agnes Wanjiru. Her body was found in a septic tank in 2012 after the 21-year-old had apparently been spotted with a group of British soldiers on a night out. A 2019 inquest concluded that she was murdered by one or two British soldiers. The public inquiry this week heard further allegations that Batuk and the Kenyan authorities were involved in a cover-up of her death. Ms. Wanjiru’s niece Esther Njoki told one of the hearings, at Nanyuki Social Hall on Tuesday, about the family’s frustration over the delay in any prosecution. “We want closure, we are demanding justice,” she said.

Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations has opened an inquiry into the death, but not charged anyone and Kenya has not asked for the extradition of suspects. The UK has indicated it would not oppose any request for a suspect to be extradited. MP Nelson Koech, chair of Kenya’s parliamentary defence committee, told the BBC some of the allegations heard at the hearings were “new and heartbreaking”.

“It has hit me that things have been happening here, whether they are true or not, we will see,” he said. The defence minister said last week that Kenya had benefited from the historic defence partnership with the UK and said more than 1,500 local people were employed at Batuk. But Mr. Duale said the current inquiry could lead to the government seeking closer engagement with the UK over issues raised, adding: “All criminal acts committed on our soil will be dealt in the host country, that is Kenya.”

A spokesman for the UK High Commission in Kenya said: “We are aware that Kenya’s National Assembly Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee is conducting a parliamentary inquiry into the activities of Batuk in Kenya. The British High Commission in Nairobi and Batuk intend to cooperate with the inquiry. The UK-Kenya defense partnership is one of the great strengths of our relationship and our joint training and operations with the Kenyan Defence Forces are keeping both Kenyan and British people safe.”

Dr. Iain Overton of AOAV said of the hearings, “The testimonies emerging from this inquiry are a stark reminder of the human cost of military operations and the imperative for accountability and justice. The accounts we’ve heard are not just statistics; they are real people whose lives have been irrevocably changed. This inquiry is crucial in ensuring that the victims’ voices are heard and that appropriate measures are taken to address these grievous wrongs. It’s a call to action for all involved parties, especially the UK Ministry of Defence, to uphold the highest standards of human rights and to ensure such incidents are never repeated.”