Nairobi, Kenya — A Kenyan parliamentary committee is visiting central Kenya to hear from locals about the conduct of a British Army training unit that is accused of human rights violations, including the unresolved death of a woman more than ten years ago. The Kenya National Human Rights Commission prompted the inquiry by petitioning parliament to hold the British army accountable for alleged human rights abuses.

Kenya’s Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs is visiting Laikipia and Samburu counties. They’re there to hear people’s complaints and look into reported abuses by the British army in the area.

The committee, which started its inquiry on Tuesday, listened to families who blame the deaths of their relatives on unattended explosives around British training camps.

The lawmakers also heard complaints of abuses at the hands of British officers, including mistreatment, torture, and unlawful detention and killings. 

The committee chair, Nelson Koech, outlines explains some of the other complaints they heard from Laikipia and Samburu residents.

“We’ve listened to people from different areas, to Lolldaiga Hills, where it’s believed that officers from British Army lit fire, were burning vegetation and an entire conservancy, and driving animals out of the conservancy to where the human population is because many people have been maimed or killed by animals that now are under distress because of the training that is happening in those grounds, to many other allegations of water becoming heavily polluted. People are now starting to get effects from the fire and having chest problems,” Koech said.

In March 2021, a British training exercise caused a fire in the Lolldaiga Conservancy that lasted for several days. 

Local activist James Mwangi wondered why the British army was allowed to train in water catchment areas with dangerous weapons. 

“Lolldaiga supports so many water streams. Why are they allowing the army to train with chemical and poisonous weapons that they don’t know how to use,” Mwangi said.

The inquiry was prompted by a petition to the parliament from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

Kenya has a defense cooperation agreement with the British government that allows up to 10,000 soldiers per year to conduct exercises in the East African nation.

According to the Kenyan government, the presence of the British Army Training Unit in Kenya, or BATUK, provided 3,000 people with jobs and contributed $45 million to the economies of Isiolo, Laikipia, and Samburu.

Koech says the parliamentarians will listen to all those who allegedly suffered from British Army activities and other government agencies to verify any abuses and human rights violations. 

“You must remember this is one side of the story we have listened to. We will be visiting BATUK, and we will be going there personally to get information from the British army. This inquiry is important to mention that in an inquiry of this nature, the verdict of this inquiry is equivalent to the verdict of a high court of Kenya,” Koech said.

A spokesperson for the British High Commission in Kenya told the French news agency AFP that they intend to cooperate with the inquiry. 

In 2012, Agnes Wanjiru was killed, allegedly by a British soldier. An investigation did not begin until 2019 and the findings of that probe were never made public. 

In 2021, the Sunday Times reported that a British officer confessed to killing a 21-year-old in central Kenya to a colleague. Afterward, Kenyan police said they were reopening the inquiry.  Wanjiru’s family told the parliamentary committee to take her killing seriously and remove obstacles that may stop the prosecution of the British soldier. 

The killing of Wanjiru has led to tensions between Kenya and Britain regarding the jurisdiction of British soldiers who commit crimes in Kenya.  The committee found that while some victims received compensation, it was usually less than what they were promised. 

The committee will present its findings to the full parliament and also closely examine the Kenya’s defense cooperation agreement with the British government.  

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