Britain systematically destroyed documents in colonies that were about to gain independence, declassified Foreign Office files reveal. ‘Operation Legacy’ saw sensitive documents secretly burnt or dumped to cover up traces of British activities.
The latest National Archives publication made from a collection of 8,800 colonial-era files held by the Foreign Office for decades revealed deliberate document elimination by British authorities in former colonies.
The secret program dubbed ‘Operation Legacy’ was in force throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in at least 23 countries and territories under British rule that eventually gained independence after WWII. Among others these countries included: Belize, British Guiana, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia and Singapore, Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanzania, and Uganda.
In a telegram from the UK Colonial Office dispatched to British embassies on May 3, 1961, colonial secretary Iain Macleod instructed diplomats to withhold official documents from newly elected independent governments in those countries, and presented general guidance on what to do.
British diplomats were briefed on how exactly they were supposed to get rid of documents that “might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants (such as police agents or informers)” or “might compromise sources of intelligence”, or could be put to ‘wrong’ use by incoming national authorities.
‘Operation Legacy’ also called for the destruction or removal of “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or bias”.
The newly declassified files revealed that the Royal Navy base in Singapore was turned into the Asian region’s primary document destruction center. A special facility called a “splendid incinerator” was used to burn “lorry loads of files”, Agence France-Presse reported.
The “central incinerator” in Singapore was necessary to avoid a situation similar to that in India in 1947, when a “pall of smoke” from British officials burning their papers in Delhi, ahead of India proclaiming independence, filled the local press with critical reports. That diplomatic oversight was taken into account, as ‘Operation Legacy’ operatives were strictly instructed not to burn documents openly.
But not all the doomed archives could be shipped to Singapore. In some cases documents were eliminated on site, sometimes being dumped in the sea “at the maximum practicable distance from shore” and in deep, current-free areas, the National Archives publication claims.
The newly published collection of documents reveals that the British cleared out Kenyan intelligence files that contained information about abuse and torture of Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule in the 1950s. A special committee formed in 1961 coordinated document elimination in Kenya. Yet some files were spared simply when an estimated 307 boxes of documents were evacuated to Britain, just months ahead of the country gaining independence in December 1963.
The existence of some remaining Mau Mau legal case documents was revealed in January 2011.
Even after eliminating important evidence half a century ago, earlier in 2013 the British government was forced to pay 23 million dollars in compensation to over 5,200 elderly Kenyans, who had suffered from Britain’s punitive measures during the Mau Mau uprising.
In another documented occasion, in April 1957, five lorries delivered tons of documents from the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur to the Royal Navy base in Singapore. Files were incinerated there; these contained details about British rule in Malaya, such as a massacre of 24 rubber plantation workers at the Malayan village of Batang Kali in 1948, who had allegedly been murdered by British soldiers.
Despite the mass document elimination, Britain’s Foreign Office still has some 1.2 million unpublished documents on British colonial policy, David Anderson, professor of African history at the University of Warwick, told AFP.
So Her Majesty’s government might still publish more valuable material that can shed more light on how one of the biggest empires in human history used to be governed. Overall, Britain had total control over 50 colonies including Canada, India, Australia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Currently, there are 14 British Overseas Territories that remain under British rule, though most of them are self-governing and all have leaderships of their own.
Britain is negotiating out-of-the-court settlements to compensate thousands of Kenyans severely mistreated under British colonial rule during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising.
According to a letter sent to lawyers representing some of the claimants, the Foreign Office has changed its mind on appealing last October’s High Court ruling that gave victims the green light to sue the government, The Guardian reported.
“The parties are currently exploring the possibility of settling the claims brought by our clients,” Dan Leader, a partner with the Leigh Day law firm told the paper.
“Clearly, given the ongoing negotiations, we can’t comment further.” He added.
The Foreign Office has refused to comment on the issue, but admitted the victims suffered “pain and grievance” during the bloody events of the Emergency period in Kenya.
Three victims won the case to sue the government at the High Court last year.
The trio’s lawyers said one of them was castrated, antoher severely tortured and the third subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the Mau Mau rebellion.
There was also a fourth claimant Susan Ngondi who has died since legal proceedings began.
The British government has admitted to British forces’ torturing of detainees at the time following disclosure of a vast archive of colonial-era documents which the Foreign Office had kept secret for decades.
- Britain to pay out to Mau Mau victims (morningstaronline.co.uk)
Boxes containing top secret files about former British colonial rule have gone missing, with those relating to Singapore possibly destroyed. Declassified colonial Kenyan files earlier played a key role in proving the UK responsible for grave abuses.
Britain has admitted that it was aware that 170 boxes of files were transferred to Britain from former colonies. But the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister David Lidington said that the government did not know what had happened to the files afterwards.
“It remains the case that the FCO is still unable to confirm the existence or destruction of 170 boxes of top secret colonial administration files known to have been returned to the UK,” Lidington told AFP.
“There is some evidence that the Singapore-related top secret colonial administration files were destroyed as part of a review of FCO post files in the 1990s.”
The FCO is continuing the search for the files and any evidence relating to their possible destruction.
The revelation comes after files relating to British rule in Kenya and Cyprus were declassified, made public and played a key in a court case by three elderly Kenyans who say they were tortured during the British army’s suppression of the 1950s Mau Mau Rebellion.
At the court hearing an archive of 8,800 secret files were examined. The released documents proved attempts by UK authorities to cover-up the killings of 11 prisoners during the uprising and showed that detainees had been battered to death by warders at the Hola detention camp.
A British court granted a historic victory to the three Kenyans, allowing them to claim damages for the suffered abuses when imprisoned during the Mau Mau uprising, including castration, beatings and severe sexual assaults.
The Kenyan case set a historical precedent and it is estimated that 2,000 other surviving Kenyans imprisoned during the Mau Mau insurgency can know sue the British government, which could have significant consequences for the government.
Overall, Britain used to have total control over 50 colonies including Canada, India, Australia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Currently, there are 14 British Overseas Territories that remain under British rule. However, all have their own internal leadership and most are self-governing.
- How Britain covered up a brutal Kenya massacre (morningstaronline.co.uk)
UK Foreign Office agrees that imprisoning Palestinian children inside Israel violates international law – but what are they going to do?
In a letter dated 29 June 2012, the UK Foreign Office responded to concerns raised by a group of UK lawyers about the forcible transfer of Palestinian children to prisons located inside Israel. The transfer of Palestinian prisoners (adults and children) to detention facilities inside Israel violates article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for which personal criminal liability applies.
In the letter, the UK Foreign Office responded that:
“The British Government shares your concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons and we have a continual dialogue with the Israeli authorities on this question. […] The Government agrees that Israel has legal obligations as an Occupying Power with respect to the Occupied Palestinian Territories under applicable international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. […] We agree with you that Israel’s policy of detaining Palestinians within Israel is contrary to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and that domestic law cannot be used as a justification for violations of international law.”
According to Israeli Prison Service figures released in June 2012, 85 percent of Palestinian prisoners, including children, were detained inside Israel. Given that this violation has continued for decades, questions need to be asked as to what additional steps the UK Government is considering to ensure that it complies with its own legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, as dialogue does not appear to be working when it comes to the forcible transfer of prisoners.
- Israeli interrogators sexually harass Palestinian children in detention (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- UK Report finds Israel breaches International Law in treatment of Palestinian children (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Former top Israeli diplomat Alon Liel threw his backing behind renowned author Alice Walker’s decision to shun an Israeli publishing house, citing an international boycott against Israel for its oppression of Palestinians, the Times of Israel reported.
Liel, who served as Israel’s ambassador to South Africa between 1992 and 1994 and was also the director of Israel’s foreign ministry, said he supported the international campaign against Israel, adding that he too boycotted goods from illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“If nobody speaks about the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, nothing will happen. I think that such a move, boycotting products from Israeli factories in the settlements, is a kind of wake-up call,” he wrote in South Africa’s Business Day paper published on Sunday.
“I can understand the desire, by people of conscience, to reassert an agenda of justice, to remind Israelis that Palestinians exist. I can understand small but symbolic acts of protest that hold a mirror up to Israeli society,” he said
Liel went on to back Walker’s refusal to allow her best-selling novel “The Color Purple” be translated into Hebrew by an Israeli publishing firm to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people.
“I think it’s needed, yes. Unfortunately, I don’t see Israeli politicians waking up from these calls. But it’s better than nothing,” he said.
The former Israeli diplomat also defended South Africa’s decision to ban “Made in Israel” labels on products from the occupied West Bank.
“I cannot condemn the move to prevent goods made in the occupied Palestinian territory from being falsely classified as ‘Made in Israel.’ I support the South African government’s insistence on this distinction between Israel and its occupation,” he wrote in his column.
Palestinian children tortured
Britain is preparing to challenge Israel over alleged malpractices by the Jewish state of Palestinian children, which could amount to torture, The Independent newspaper reported on Wednesday.
An investigation by senior British lawyers – funded by the Foreign Office – included shocking acts of cruelty against detained Palestinian children, including solitary confinement, blindfolding and being forced to wear leg irons.
The findings, based largely on testimonies by Palestinian children from the West Bank, were published in Children in Military Custody.
“We were sitting in court and saw a section of a preliminary hearing when a very young looking child, a boy, was brought in wearing a brown uniform with leg irons on. We were shocked by that. This was a situation where we had been invited into the military courts for briefings from senior judges,” Greg Davies, a human rights barrister involved in the investigation wrote.
“To hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture,” the report said.
The report also found Palestinian children were often dragged from the beds in the middle of the night, and subjected to verbal and physical abuse in jail in a bid to have them sign confessions they were not permitted to read, The Independent said.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it would “lobby” Israel “for further improvements” without clarifying.
“The UK government has had long-standing concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, and as a result decided to fund this independent report. While recognizing that some positive recent steps have been made by the Israeli authorities, we share many of the report’s concerns, and will continue to lobby for further improvements,” The Independent quoted the Foreign Office as saying.
Israel maintains a military occupation of the West Bank, and a siege on Gaza, subjecting the indigenous Palestinian population to extremely harsh measures that many activists have dubbed apartheid.
(Al-Akhbar, Times of Israel, The Independent)
- Samah Sabawi responds to Liberal Zionists (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review has concluded.
Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.
The archive came to light last year when a group of Kenyans detained and allegedly tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion won the right to sue the British government.
The Foreign Office promised to release the 8,800 files from 37 former colonies held at the highly-secure government communications centre at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire.
The historian appointed to oversee the review and transfer, Tony Badger, master of Clare College, Cambridge, says the discovery of the archive put the Foreign Office in an “embarrassing, scandalous” position.
“These documents should have been in the public archives in the 1980s,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the “elimination” of the colonial authority’s enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of aman said to have been “roasted alive”; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
- Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes – The Guardian (guardian.co.uk)