Kenya holds public hearings into alleged abuses by British troops

Soldiers of the British Army Training Unit in Kenya. [AFP]

Kenya is today due to launch public hearings into allegations of human rights violations and abuses of power by British troops based in the former colony.

The British Army Training Unit in Kenya (BATUK) is an economic lifeline for many in the central town of Nanyuki, where it maintains a permanent base, but soldiers stationed there have also been accused of committing offenses including murder.

In the most high-profile case dating back to 2012, the body of a young Kenyan mother was found in a septic tank in Nanyuki where she was last seen alive with a British soldier.

Agnes Wanjiru's family filed a lawsuit in Kenya over the 21-year-old's death, but progress has been sluggish, with hearings repeatedly postponed. The case is now due to be heard on July 10, according to local media.

Kenya's parliament announced last week it would hold four public hearings, including one in Nanyuki, into alleged abuses by British troops stationed in the country.

The hearings between Tuesday and Thursday this week will "investigate the allegations of human rights violations, including mistreatment, torture, unlawful detention, killings", a circular issued by the lower house of parliament said.

The hearings will also examine "the alleged ethical breaches related to ethical misconduct, including corruption, fraud, discrimination, abuse of power, and other unethical behaviour".

London and Nairobi have been at odds over the question of jurisdiction for British soldiers who break Kenyan law, with the UK government saying previously that it did not accept the jurisdiction of the Kenyan court probing Wanjiru's death.

Asked about this week's hearings, a spokesperson for the British High Commission told AFP: "The British High Commission in Nairobi and BATUK intend to cooperate with the inquiry.

"The UK-Kenya defence 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."

Inquiry reopened

On Thursday, the British mission said High Commissioner Neil Wigan had met with Wanjiru's family, who have long demanded justice over her killing.

"The meeting provided an opportunity for the High Commissioner to listen to the family and offer his condolences. The High Commissioner also reiterated the UK's continued commitment to cooperate fully with the Kenyan investigation into (the) death of Ms Wanjiru," it said.

In October 2021, Britain's The Sunday Times newspaper reported that a soldier had confessed to his comrades to killing Wanjiru and showed them her body.

The report alleged that military superiors were made aware of the murder, but no further action was taken.

An investigation was opened in 2019 but no results have been made public.

Kenyan police announced that the inquiry would be reopened after the Sunday Times revelations.

Wanjiru's family has filed a lawsuit against the British army in Kenya as well as Kenyan police, legal and political officials over her death.