Storm in a tea plantation: UK should pay for forcing Kenyan tribes off their land, says UN

Government urged to pay reparations to Kipsigis and Talai people who were removed from ancestral home in now-lucrative tea region in 1920s

The seized land remains extremely fertile and presents perfect conditions for growing tea, and is now used by various tea corporations. (Katie G. Nelson/The Telegraph)

By Gabriella Swerling


Britain should pay compensation to two Kenyan tribes forced off their land from the 1920s onwards, in “gross human rights violations”, UN authorities have said.


Six UN special rapporteurs have written to the government expressing concern for the UK’s failure to provide reparations to the Kipsigis and Talai people of Kericho County, Kenya.


Their report says that the Kipsigis and Talai were forcefully removed from their ancestral lands during the pre-colonial and colonial period in Kenya by the British Government. Their land was turned into lucrative tea plantations.


The victims suffered “serious human rights violations” including unlawful killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, arbitrary displacement and violations of the rights to privacy, family life and property, but have never received any form of compensation or redress, according to the human rights experts.


Legal representatives for the victims, many of whom are still alive today, said that the British Government must now provide their responses to the UN rapporteurs’ questions and settle the matter.


It is not the first time that representatives of the UN have suggested countries should consider paying compensation over incidents from history. Last year, the UN Human Rights Council urged global action, including reparations, to “make amends” for slavery and racism against people of African descent.


Fertile land


The land in question is extremely fertile and presents perfect conditions for growing tea. It is now occupied by various British and multinational tea corporations, including Findlay’s, Williamson Fine Tea and Unilever.


The oldest victim who is still alive today is 96-year-old Kibore Cheruyiot Ngasura, who was forcefully removed from his land in Kericho with his entire family and clan when he was just 10 years old. The whole family were made to walk to an area called Gwasi where many died in arid and inhospitable conditions.


The UN rapporteurs have told the British Government that reparations should include “measures in the areas of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and satisfaction as well as participation of the victims in the establishment and implementation of such measures”.


The six special rapporteurs who wrote to the British Government hail from a variety of countries including the Philippines, Guatemala, Switzerland, Argentina and the US. They do not represent countries at the UN and are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council with mandates to advise on human rights.


Refusal to engage


The intervention comes following the refusal by the British Government to enter into any kind of process to resolve the matter and apologise publicly to the victims, according to the UN.


As a result, it has been reminded by the UN rapporteurs of the “obligation of States to adopt measures to ensure justice, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence of past human rights violations”. However, it is not thought that the UK would face any sanctions if they did not respond to the rapporteurs comments.


One of the victims, Dickson Sitienei, said: “It has been very difficult to feel ignored for so long by the British Government for the terrible things they did to us.


“We have been fighting for our voices to be heard for many years and if the British Government think we will forget what they did they are wrong. We will keep fighting for them to speak with us and we thank our lawyers for continuing this fight for us with the UN.


“We cannot feel free until they acknowledge what they did, this is the only way forward.”


An FCDO spokesman said: “The UK Government stands firmly against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment. Promoting and protecting human rights around the world is a cornerstone of our foreign policy.


“A UK Government statement made in 2013, recognising the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the emergency period, was part of the settlement by the UK Government of claims made by Kenyan citizens.


“We regret that these abuses took place, and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.”


This article was published by The Telegraph.