Kenya: How British Soldiers Flout the Rules of Engagement in the Country

A British soldier (right) gives instructions during a joint training with Kenya Defence Forces at Archer’s Post in Samburu County on October 7, 2020 (file photo).
26 October 2021

The British Ministry of Defence underscores a golden rule for all soldiers on active service: They must remember the law in every action.

History, however, shows that forces have been violating human rights and flouting military pacts signed with different nations.

The revelation that a young lady was murdered and her body thrown in a septic tank by a British soldier in 2012 adds to the long list of atrocities allegedly committed by soldiers, especially those attached to the British Army Training Unit Kenya (Batuk) in Samburu and Nanyuki.

The soldiers have in the past been accused of carelessly leaving unexploded ordinances in the unfenced fields of Samburu, killing and maiming herders and their livestock. They have also been accused of rape, murder, assault and environmental crimes.

Rights groups working around the areas where Batuk units train have for years raised concerns about human rights violations.

"The cruel death of Agnes Wanjiru is a strong indicator of the impunity with which the British soldiers operate in Kenya. In 2006, they covered up the allegations of rape against them by several women in Laikipia and Samburu. The British government must address all crimes committed by its soldier," the indigenous movement for peace advancement and conflict transformation (Impact) director Johnson ole Kaunga said yesterday.

The British government has twice been compelled to pay millions of shillings to residents. In total, 1,300 people who had been seriously injured or killed by the bombs qualified. The payment was done in 2003 and 2004 after a British law firm, Leigh Day, negotiated the settlement.

When lawyer Martyn Leigh filed the suit, the British MoD denied responsibility for the accidents that killed at least 560 people, mostly children, over 50 years.

Later, defence officials in London agreed to settle the claims without admission of liability on the basis that it did leave unexploded weapons in the training areas, but for the mere fact that it used the unfenced grounds.

In 2003, 230 people were paid Sh450 million for either losing relatives, or sustaining injuries that resulted in disability.

In 2013, Amnesty International (AI) and Impact said at least 650 women had been raped by British soldiers over 35 years (1965 to 2001) in Dol Dol and Archer's Post and that there was a conspiracy of silence by UK and Kenyan authorities.

"Despite the many complaints, Kenya and the UK failed to take effective measures: to investigate such claims, bring the alleged perpetrators to justice, ensure adequate reparation for the victims and prevent further attacks," AI said.

Samburu women who claimed to have been raped and even impregnated by the soldiers have, however, never received compensation. They risk never receiving any, following the passing of UK's Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021, which took effect in April.

The Act, which was effected in April, introduces a statute of limitation - five years - beyond which no prosecution is possible.

On July 27, Defence Secretary Monica Juma and her UK counterpart, Ben Wallace, signed the new Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) in London.

It contains details on the jurisdiction, environmental and civilian protection, importation of ordnance, conducts of the visiting nations' forces pertaining to sexual exploitation of women and settlement of disputes among others. But still, soldiers go unpunished for crimes they have committed. Some cases are pending at Nanyuki law courts.

Soldiers were blamed for starting a fire that destroyed about 12,000 acres of land at the Lolidiaga Conservancy. "Two months in Kenya later and we've only got eight days left. Been good, caused a fire, killed an elephant and feel terrible about it but hey-ho, when in Rome," a British soldier wrote in a Snapchat post, angering conservationists.

Under the DCA, the UK invests Sh1.165 billion annually and trains about 1,100 soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces preparing for deployment to Somalia.

The DCA states that the visiting forces shall avoid acts that impact on human health and safety, bans sexual exploitation of children, details on the disposal of arms wastes and the procedures to be taken prior to military training involving live firing in designated training areas.

The rules of engagement have been similar to those the previous DCAs, yet the rate of prosecution of UK soldiers in Kenya remains very low. On the case of Wanjiku, British High Commissioner Jane Marriott said the UK would cooperate with investigators.

"In 2012, the UK's Special Investigation Branch carried out initial enquiries in Kenya, including providing information about British personnel to Kenyan police. No further requests were received at that time. Following the conclusion of a Kenyan inquest in 2019, we understand that the Kenyan authorities are looking into the murder. We will support that Kenyan police investigation," her statement read in part.

Mr Day yesterday said his firm was looking into the case. "The firm has only recently been contacted about this matter. It is not clear to us at this point how far investigations have progressed in Kenya but we are looking into what options may be open to the family in the UK going forward," he told the Nation.

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