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Systematic abuse? Not our problem…

I’ve spoken before about the value of official apologies for historical wrongdoing. While those on the right will squawk that it’s just a drummed-up excuse to make (group X) feel guilty for being (X), the real consequence of apologies is to take an opportunity to own one’s past. There is the old aphorism that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” – basically the longer we continue to deceive ourselves about what is in our history, or try to pave over the bad things, the more likely we are to make the same mistakes again.

But then there are those times when we actively refuse to deal with history:

The government cannot be held legally liable for abuses during the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule in Kenya, a court has heard. Ministers want a claim for compensation from four elderly Kenyans struck out by the High Court in London. The claimants say they were assaulted between 1952 and 1961 by British colonial officers in detention camps. The Foreign Office says Kenya had its own legal colonial government, which was responsible for the camps.

This is the kind of legal jiu-jitsu that only a mob lawyer could really feel good about. The court did not deny the abuse took place, or that the men were victims of the abuse. They just think that the men should go after the real culprit – the colonial government that no longer exists. Never mind that the colonial government was established by the British Empire, for the sole purpose of stripping Kenyans from the right to self-government. Never mind that it is impossible to sue the colonial government since Britain relinquished control of the colony. No, these aren’t relevant details to the case.

What is relevant is that England can avoid having to own up for its shocking history of colonial atrocities committed against military and civilians alike. It’s like something out of The Shawshank Redemption, where Andy Defresne creates a legal identity for a fake person that can never be prosecuted, because he never existed. The colonial government, under the direction of Britain (I can’t, in this context, bring myself to refer to them as Great Britain), committed abuses and was then dissolved at the end of the colonial era. Nice and tidy way of evading culpability, innit?

The judge heard Mr Mutua and Mr Nzili had been castrated, Mr Nyingi was beaten unconscious in an incident in which 11 men were clubbed to death, and Mrs Mara had been subjected to appalling sexual abuse.

Not relevant.

David Anderson, professor of African politics at Oxford University, who has examined some of the withheld documents, said the files proved Whitehall not only knew what was being done to Mau Mau suspects but also had a part in sanctioning their ill-treatment.

Not relevant.

The government says too much time has elapsed since the alleged abuses.

Ah, now see that’s a reasonable argument! Crippling and ongoing psychological trauma? Not our problem – that shit’s old news! Oh wait, you want an apology? Yeah… take it up with the colonial government – that’s who did it, right?

Oh wait, they don’t exist?

Not relevant.

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