A forum for critical analysis of international issues and developments of particular relevance to the sustainable political and socio-economic development of Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs).
13 July 2012
How Britain erased a shameful paper trail
IMPERIALIST TERROR: An April 2011 photograph of Kenyan nationals who are seeking justice over the
brutality they claim they suffered at the hands of the British army during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising.
They hope their cases would secure a statement of regret over Britan’s role in the Kenyan Emergency and
get a victim’s welfare fund.
Thousands of colonial papers detailing crimes in Africa and elsewhere were culled or kept secret illegally.
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.
A list of former British colonies for which administrative files were to be released was published by the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office earlier this year.
However, the Cayman Islands wasn’t on it.
The foreign office list of 38 countries, which includes a few current overseas territories such as Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands, sets release dates for what are termed “colonial administration files”. The first batch of those files was released in April; all of the records are expected to be made public by November 2013.
Head of the Cayman Islands Governor’s Office Steve Moore checked on the status of any Cayman Islands-related files following a request by the Caymanian Compass. Mr. Moore said he asked the foreign office team working on the release of the administrative documents whether colonial files related to the West Indies Federation or Jamaica included information about Cayman. The Cayman Islands were a dependency of Jamaica, which itself was a British colony before it gained independence in 1962.
“Among the Jamaica files, which are still being reviewed, there were a number of files relating to the Cayman Islands, during the period when they were administered from Jamaica,” Mr. Moore said. “The Jamaica files are scheduled to be released to the National Archive in September.”
What information that release will contain that is Cayman-specific was unclear.
“The West Indies Federation files have not yet been reviewed, but following [the Compass] request a cursory check of the file lists was carried out,” Mr. Moore said. “From this, there does not appear to be any Cayman-specific papers [within the West Indies Federation files]. But please bear in mind that the file lists are not always 100 per cent accurate and the FCO will only have complete and accurate knowledge of their holdings once the files have been catalogued.”
The issue regarding British colonial administration documents became an international issue in January 2011, following a court case brought by four Kenyan nationals who were involved in the Mau Mau rebellion during the 1950s.
In the case, the government was forced to admit that 8,800 files were secretly sent to Britain from the colonies, prior to their independence.
The administrative files released in April by the UK foreign office cover a period generally between the 1930s and the 1970s, during which time the records had been transferred to the UK.
The archive contains documents from Aden, Anguilla, Bahamas, Basutoland [Lesotho], Bechuanaland [Botswana], the British Indian Ocean Territories, Brunei, Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya, Sarawak and the Seychelles.
The British were instructed to keep papers that might embarrass the UK government. In both Kenya and the UK there were references to certain materials being destroyed.
Some of the revelations from the first batch of colonial administration papers include, according to published reports:
Detailed accounts of the UK policy of seizing livestock from Kenyans who supported the Mau Mau rebels in the 1950s;
Secret plans to deport a Greek Cypriot leader to the Seychelles;
Efforts to deport Chagos Islanders from the British Indian Ocean Territories;
And concerns over the “anti-American” and “anti-white” tendency of Kenyan students sent to study in the US in 1959.