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Why is Kenya investigating alleged abuses by UK soldiers? | military news

This week, Kenya began public hearings into widespread allegations that UK soldiers stationed in the East African country have committed multiple human rights violations.

For more than a decade, locals have repeatedly accused British soldiers training in towns in central Kenya of misconduct, environmental degradation, murder and a host of other serious crimes.

The hearings mark the culmination of lengthy legal proceedings to try British soldiers under Kenyan law, after years of lobbying by civil society groups and after initial reaction from the British government.

Here’s what we know about the abuse allegations and what is expected to happen after the hearings:

What is BATUK and what are its members accused of?

The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) is a permanent training support force based in Nanyuki, central Kenya, and has existed since Kenya’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1963.

BATUK has around 100 permanent staff and around 280 short-term rotational regiments from the UK. The unit trains British troops and provides counter-terrorism training to Kenyan troops fighting the armed group al-Shabab.

Although the unit has become essential to the economy in Nanyuki and surrounding counties near the training sites, with hundreds of locals employed and many shops catering to soldiers, residents have long listed their grievances against the units. troops. Unexploded bombs left during training have claimed people’s limbs in multiple incidents.

Lethal chemicals, such as white phosphorus used in training exercises, have also raised concerns. The chemical is believed to have contributed to a massive fire that swept through the privately owned Lolldaiga Conservancy in March 2021, burning swaths of forest. Locals said the smoke pressured them for days and caused eye and inhalation problems. Others said it pushed wildlife onto their farms, causing crop failures. Some 5,000 people have sued BATUK over that incident.

Who is Agnes Wanjiru?

Allegations of sexual abuse are also key among the accusations, with several allegations of assault by troops against local women. In 2021, a soldier was fired and fined for lifting the skirts of a local woman in public.

In the most high-profile case to date, UK soldiers are accused of the March 2012 murder of Agnes Wanjiru, 21, in a Nanyuki hotel. The woman’s body was found in a septic tank two months later, near the room the soldiers used.

The allegations came to light in 2021 after a Sunday Times investigation revealed that a “Soldier Although she immediately revealed her actions to her colleagues, at least one of whom informed BATUK’s senior commanders, no action was taken.

The investigation also revealed that Soldier X and several others mocked the slain woman in Facebook posts.

How have victims attempted to seek justice?

In some cases, attempts to obtain justice have yielded results. A teenager who lost two arms in 2015 after picking up an explosive that appeared to have been left by UK soldiers received $100,000 in compensation from the British government, although the UK questions whether the bomb that caused the injuries was for its army or the Kenyan army.

Other cases have seen slower progress. Thousands of local residents affected by the Lolldaiga fire are still fighting for compensation, their lawyers said.

Attempts by the family of the murdered Wanjiru to sue BATUK in Kenya were also initially met with resistance, with the British government claiming that Kenyan courts had no jurisdiction over UK troops under the existing security agreement between the two countries. However, following the Sunday Times expose, General Nick Carter, chief of the UK Defense Staff at the time, told local media that the allegations were “shocking” and that the UK would “cooperate very closely with the Kenyan authorities.

A parliamentary vote to amend the security agreement between the countries in April 2023 means British troops can now be tried locally, although there are concerns the changes cannot be applied retrospectively. In August 2023, the Kenyan government officially launched an investigation into Wanjiru’s murder.

“It’s been a battle with them because the way they treat our people has been quite unfortunate,” said John Macharia, director of the African Center for Corrective and Preventive Action (ACCPA). The local advocacy group pushed for investigations into Wanjiru’s case and helped bring the fire incident to court.

“It is both countries to blame because there have been compromises in Kenyan investigations and prosecution teams, some of whom went to the UK. We have asked how the Wanjiru investigation is progressing but we have not received a response and this is a concern for us. “Impunity has caused a lot of damage to our people and the ecosystem,” he added.

An open letter from Wanjiru’s family to meet King Charles, commander of the British armed forces, on his October 2023 trip to Kenya was not acknowledged.

What happened at this week’s hearings?

Victims of alleged abuse and crimes committed by British soldiers came forward with emotional testimonies at hearings this week.

The mother of a young woman in a wheelchair testified how her daughter was the victim of a hit-and-run with a BATUK truck. BATUK paid her daughter’s hospital bills for two years, but never gave any compensation to the family.

Another mother, holding her five-year-old daughter, described how a British soldier with whom she had had a consensual relationship had abandoned her after he discovered she was pregnant. The soldier is believed to have since left Kenya. The woman said she wanted child support.

The survivors of the Lolldaiga fire also participated in the hearing.

The Kenyan authorities had invited Kenyans to submit oral and written testimonies. The hearings, they said, are intended to “investigate allegations of human rights violations, including ill-treatment, torture, illegal detention (and) murder.”

The hearings will also examine “alleged ethical violations related to ethical misconduct, including corruption, fraud, discrimination, abuse of power and other unethical behavior.”

Whats Next?

Lawmakers will collect evidence from testimonies, evaluate it and then discuss possible redress mechanisms with the British government through diplomatic channels, a member of parliament told local reporters.

Activists say the hearings are likely to trigger multiple lawsuits against BATUK.

“This will shock the world,” said ACCPA’s Macharia. “There are many other issues that have never been brought to court. But this will allow legislators to interact with the community and understand those issues.”

Locals say their goal is not to force BATUK to close but rather to ensure that troops still stationed at the base can act in a way that does not endanger the lives of villagers.

But there are fears that the investigation will not achieve much or that no one will be held accountable, at least in the short term, due to friendly relations between Kenya and its former colonial power.

Meanwhile, the UK government has reiterated that it intends to cooperate with Kenyan authorities. On Thursday, Neil Wigan, British high commissioner to Kenya, met Wanjiru’s family.

“The meeting provided an opportunity for the High Commissioner to listen to the family and offer his condolences,” read a statement from the British High Commission.

“The High Commissioner also reiterated the UK’s continued commitment to fully cooperate with Kenya’s investigation into (the) death of Ms Wanjiru,” he added.

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