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Nairobi inquiry on British army conduct reopens old wounds

The terms of a new defence treaty between London and Nairobi are about to be tested in public

Relations between London and Nairobi are likely to be strained by a parliamentary inquiry to assess accusations of human rights abuse by British soldiers based in northern Kenya since independence in 1963.

The National Assembly's Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations committee has opened a public inquiry into alleged malpractices committed by British soldiers in Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu, with terms of reference that date back to 1963.

The inquiry will look into allegations of human rights violations, including violence, torture, unlawful detention and killings, as well as corruption, fraud, discrimination and abuse of power. The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK), whose activities are at the centre of the inquiry, has been in Kenya since 1964.

The murder in 2012 of Agnes Wanjiru in Laikipia county, close to the British army deployment in Nanyuki, reawakened anger about crimes committed by British forces during and after the colonial era. Wanjiru's killer has not been brought to justice despite media reports in 2021 that a British soldier had confessed to the crime.

In 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta agreed to a revamp of the British-Kenya defence pact which included provisions that British soldiers accused of lawbreaking would be tried in Kenya, be subject to Kenyan law for any infractions outside their base, and that British military sites would be subject to Kenyan inspection (AC Vol 56 No 21, Uhuru's frequent flyer card).

Kenyans have until 6 October to present cases to the committee and lawmakers will conclude the public inquiry process in April 2024 before submitting a report to Parliament.

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