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Explained: Why is Kenya investigating alleged abuse by UK soldiers?

Kenya has initiated public hearings to address widespread allegations of human rights violations committed by United Kingdom soldiers stationed there. For over a decade, residents have accused British soldiers training in central Kenya of various offences, including environmental degradation, misconduct, murder, and other serious crimes. These hearings mark the culmination of prolonged legal efforts to […]

Kenya has initiated public hearings to address widespread allegations of human rights violations committed by United Kingdom soldiers stationed there.

For over a decade, residents have accused British soldiers training in central Kenya of various offences, including environmental degradation, misconduct, murder, and other serious crimes. These hearings mark the culmination of prolonged legal efforts to hold British soldiers accountable under Kenyan law, following years of lobbying by civil society groups and initial resistance from the British government.

The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) and Allegations

The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK), based in Nanyuki since Kenyan independence in 1963, has about 100 permanent staff and 280 rotating short-term regiments from the UK. BATUK provides essential training for British troops and antiterrorism training for Kenyan forces combating the al-Shabab armed group.

Despite its economic benefits to Nanyuki and surrounding areas, BATUK has faced numerous local grievances. Unexploded bombs left behind from training exercises have caused injuries, and lethal chemicals like white phosphorus used in training have sparked environmental and health concerns. One such incident in March 2021 involved a massive fire at the privately owned Lolldaiga Conservancy, leading to a lawsuit from about 5,000 locals.

High-Profile Cases and Efforts for Justice

Sexual abuse allegations have also emerged, with several reports of assaults by troops against local women. The most notable case involves the 2012 murder of 21-year-old Agnes Wanjiru, whose body was found in a septic tank two months after her disappearance. Investigations revealed that a soldier, known as “Soldier X,” was implicated but faced no immediate consequences despite confessing to his colleagues.

Efforts to seek justice have seen mixed results. A teenager who lost both arms in 2015 after picking up an explosive received $100,000 in compensation, although the UK disputes responsibility for the bomb. Thousands affected by the Lolldaiga fire are still pursuing compensation.

Attempts by Wanjiru’s family to sue BATUK initially faced jurisdictional challenges. However, a 2023 parliamentary vote amended the security agreement, allowing British troops to be tried locally. An inquiry into Wanjiru’s death was officially launched in August 2023.

This Week’s Hearings

This week’s hearings featured emotional testimonies from victims of alleged abuses. The mother of a hit-and-run victim involving a BATUK truck shared her story, while another woman detailed how she was abandoned by a British soldier after becoming pregnant. Survivors of the Lolldaiga fire also provided testimonies.

Kenyan authorities have invited written and oral testimonies to investigate allegations of human rights violations, including mistreatment, torture, unlawful detention, and killings. The hearings will also examine ethical misconduct, including corruption, fraud, discrimination, and abuse of power.

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KenyaTDGThe Daily GuardianUnited Kingdom