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LGD 2003 (2) - Day & Patterson


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The Mass Rape of Kenyan Women by British Soldiers

Martyn Day and Jill Patterson

Leigh, Day and Co,

This is a commentary published on 20 January 2004.

Citation: Day, M and Patterson, J, 'The Mass Rape of Kenyan Women by British Soldiers', Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal (LGD) 2003 (2), <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

1. Introduction

While working in Kenya on claims for children who have been injured and killed by unexploded ordinance left on army ranges by the British, we have been increasingly approached by Masai and Samburu women telling us that British soldiers have raped them. To our shame, we initially did not credit what the women were saying. However, since November we have been investigating these serious allegations. As a result, we are now quite clear that over the last 30 years, British soldiers have been responsible for the rape of literally hundreds of Kenyan women.

The British Army sends something like 3,000 soldiers out to Kenya each year to practice on five military ranges. The army is mainly based in the town of Nanyuki where there are barracks, but camps are usually set up at each of the ranges in the same spot each year.

2. The Dol Dol Range

The primary problem of rapes appears to have occurred at Dol Dol. Dol Dol range is heavily populated by the Masai, the local primary school being at the centre. We have now interviewed over 250 Masai women from Dol Dol who allege they have been raped over a 30-year period. The women each have corroborative evidence in various forms: supporting contemporaneous medical records; records from the District Officer or police; mixed race children; confirmation from the chief. In most cases the women were attacked and 'gang raped' by a number of British soldiers while going about their daily chores. A number of women, for example, have been attacked on their way to collect firewood or water. Many have subsequently found themselves pregnant and have been ostracised by their communities for bearing children outside marriage. Their lives have been curtailed even further by the fact they are now too frightened to leave the village alone.

From our investigations it is apparent that Masai women in an isolated area like Dol Dol are not at all promiscuous. There is a very strong sense of family and social structure in the local community and it is very clear that no Masai woman would voluntarily have sex with a white man in these sorts of circumstances. Further, rape is extremely unusual in the Masai community. The chiefs told us that they might expect an incident perhaps once every ten years.

3. The Gurkhas

The most horrific series of rapes seem to surround two periods when the British Regiment of Gurkhas were in Kenya. The first took place in 1997 in Archers Post, a town adjacent to the largest of the ranges. Some 30 women say that they were raped by Gurkhas in October 1997 when they were based at the local camp and were allowed to go into the village on a daily basis. It seems that the soldiers would go out in groups to look for women, push them into their manyattas and take turns to rape them, often at knife-point. We met one mixed race child who was clearly of Gurkha origin.

The local Chairman of the Samburu Council confirmed that these women had been raped. He also informed us of the disturbing news that the Gurkhas had sodomised some local boys. The boys had been too afraid to come forward to talk to us. He and the District Officer met with the senior officer of the British Army camp at the time to express their grave concern about what had been happening but, despite assurances, nothing was done.

In November 1999 to March 2000 the Gurkhas returned, this time to the other ranges. Six women who were leaving their local village were pounced upon and attacked by some 18 soldiers. The events reached fever pitch, with the Masai threatening to attack the army camp and police officers were brought in to separate the two. It is also reported that similar events occurred when the Gurkhas moved to the army barracks in Nanyuki.

These are obviously serious allegations that cannot be made lightly. However, the testimony of the women and the strength of the evidence have led us to the view that these allegations are likely to be true.

4. The British Army

What is as concerning as the events themselves, if not more so, is the response of the British army. Our investigations suggest that:

a) the British Army was made aware of many of the rape cases in the Dol Dol range areas shortly after they happened. The evidence of occasions when rapes were reported to the British Army at Dol Dol are manifold: minutes of meetings between local chiefs and British Army officers and the local Government Officer on the issue; letters from chiefs and Government officers to the British Army dating back to 1977; attempts by chiefs to appeal directly to the Camp commanders to stop the

b) there is no evidence that the British Army investigated those claims in any way.

c) there is no evidence that the British Army charged any soldier as a result of the alleged assaults.

d) there is no suggestion that any soldier was punished for the alleged rapes.

5. Dealing with the allegations

As a result of the failure of the British Army to investigate the claims at the time, the prospect of criminal proceedings now being successfully brought seems slim. Having raised this issue with the
Ministry of Defence in January, however, we reached agreement that the Royal Military Police would carry out an investigation to see if criminal charges could be brought against any of the individual soldiers involved. Their investigation commenced in April and the RMP have been out to Kenya twice since then.

What is as important as the individual acts is the systemic failure by the British Army to deal with the allegations of rape as they emerged over the years. It would seem clear that it was as a result of this
failure that soldiers clearly felt they could rape the local women with impunity. There is no other explanation as to how such a catastrophic situation could have arisen whereby so many rapes have occurred in such a small area over such a long period.

The women have asked us, therefore, to bring a civil claim for damages against the Ministry of Defence. However, that some 650 rapes could take place, that British Army officers could have been told about what was going on over 20 years on at least ten occasions without any resulting investigation, that the Gurkhas could have been allowed to go on a raping spree with impunity, are all issues that should be of fundamental concern, not just to the British Army and the Ministry of
Defence but to our wider government and to Parliament. It is hard to believe that we are living in 2003 and not the Middle Ages.