List of Atrocities committed by the United Kingdom

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British authorities detaining Kenyan civilians during the Mau Mau Uprising.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland throughout its history from its inception to the present, has committed a long list of atrocities, ranging from human rights violations to war crimes. This is a list that encompasses the atrocities committed by this country.

Slave Trade

The British were no exception when it came to the slave trade. To find cheap labor for their colonies in America, the British set up the Royal African Company which captured or bought African slaves and transported them in varcos to America, where they had no rights and were exploited to death. It was not until 1830 that slavery in the British colonies was abolished.

Expulsion of the Acadians

The Expulsion of the Acadians was the forced removal by the British of the Acadian people from the present-day Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and northern Maine — parts of an area historically known as Acadia. The Expulsion occurred during the French and Indian War (the North American theatre of the Seven Years' War) and was part of the British military campaign against New France. The British first deported Acadians to the Thirteen Colonies, and after 1758, transported additional Acadians to Britain and France. In all, of the 14,100 Acadians in the region, approximately 11,500 Acadians were deported. A census of 1764 indicates that 2,600 Acadians remained in the colony having eluded capture.

Black War

Due to the continuous attacks by Australian aborigines on British settlements on the island of Tasmania, the British decided to implement martial law on the island, under which, the British committed numerous massacres and war crimes against the aborigines, such as the mutilation of his ears. These massacres led to the extinction of the aborigines in Tasmania.

Great Irish Famine

Between 1845 and 1849, the island of Ireland was affected by a great famine caused by a plague that affected potato crops (the main food consumed by the Irish), and despite the fact that initially, the government of Sir Robert Peel provided help to the Irish population, when the Whigs took power, they withdrew much of the aid, and allowed the export of Irish food, which ended up aggravating the famine.

Second Anglo-Boer War

During the Second Anglo-Boer War, the British committed multiple war crimes, such as the burning of farms and villages, the murder of civilians, and the creation of concentration camps for Afrikaners.

Expedition to Tibet

In 1903, with the intention of preventing the influence of the Russian Empire in Tibet, the British Empire invaded the homonymous region (without the Tibetans attacking the British). After a successful advance, Tibet was forced to pay compensation to the British and the expedition left great material damage to Tibet and it is estimated that between 2,000 or 3,000 Tibetans were dead or killed by the British.

Persian Famine

During the World War I, Iran was between British Raj, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, so, to prevent a possible Ottoman occupation, the British and Russians decide to invade the country in 1914. Later, Russia would withdraw from the war and left the country in 1917, the same year that, due to poor harvests, there would begin to be a food shortage in Iran. It is then that the United Kingdom, as revenge against the Qajar Dynasty of Iran for not letting them exploit the country's oil, decides to impose a blockade on imports into Iran, which ends up aggravating food shortages to the point of becoming a famine that killed between 2 and 10 million people, thus weakening the country and allowing the British to carry out a coup which would replace the Qajar Dynasty with the Pahlavi Dynasty, more in line with British interests in the country.

Portobello killings

During the Easter Rising of 1916, British soldier John Bowen-Colthurst (previously accused of committing war crimes in Tibet) went on a killing spree in the Portobello area of Dublin, shooting two people dead (a nineteen-year-old boy and a local politician) and taking two journalists prisoner. The two journalists, along with activist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington who was previously arrested for supporting the Rising, were then executed without trial.

Jallianwala Bagh massacre

When a large crowd of civilians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh garden to celebrate a festival, Indian colonial authorities, led by Reginald Dyer, gunned down civilians, and blocked exits, killing more than 300 people.

1920 Iraqi revolt

The Iraqi revolt against the British, also known as the 1920 Iraqi Revolt or Great Iraqi Revolution, started in Baghdad in the summer of 1920 with mass demonstrations by Iraqis, including protests by embittered officers from the old Ottoman army, against the British occupation of Iraq. The British retaliation left 6,000 to 10,000 dead by the time it ended in 1922.

It has been alleged that the British used chemical weapons during the revolt. Use of tear gas and lethal poison gas against rebels was considered, and was promoted by Winston Churchill, who was then the head of the War Office.

Bloody Sunday of 1920

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, the Irish Republican Army began an operation to kill members of the "Cairo Gang", a group of British intelligence agents, killing or mortally wounding 15 men.

Later, as revenge, a group of members of the Royal Irish Constabulary called "Black and Tans", along with British auxiliaries and soldiers, entered Croke Park, where a Gaelic football game was being played, and without warning, started shooting at the spectators, and blocked the exits so that people could not escape. As a result, 14 people (including two children and a soccer player) died and 80 were injured.

Mau Mau Uprising

During the Mau Mau Uprising, the British authorities sent large numbers of Kenyan civilians to concentration camps under the guise of being alleged members of the Mau Mau rebel group, and multiple Kenyans were tortured and killed inside the camps.

The Great Palestinian Revolt

Racial and ethnic tension in the British Mandate of Palestine was at an all-time high during the late 1930s when Arabs launched an armed revolt against the British military administration in 1936. Military law allowed swift prison sentences to be passed. Thousands of Arabs were held in administrative detention, without trial, and without proper sanitation, in overcrowded prison camps.

The British had already formalised the principle of collective punishment in Palestine in the 1924–1925 Collective Responsibility and Punishment Ordinances and updated these ordinances in 1936 with the Collective Fines Ordinance. These collective fines (amounting to £1,000,000 over the revolt) eventually became a heavy burden for poor Palestinian villagers, especially when the army also confiscated livestock, destroyed properties, imposed long curfews and established police posts, demolished houses and detained some or all of the Arab men in distant detention camps.

Operation Countenance

On August 25 1941, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union launched a joint invasion of Iran. The reasoning was that Iran's leader Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was believed to be sympathetic to Nazi Germany, and the two countries also wanted access to the country's oil. 800 Iranian soldiers were killed before a ceasefire was reached on August 30.

Bengal famine of 1943

During World War II, the majority of the population of the Bengal region in India fed on rice from Burma, so when Burma was invaded by Imperial Japan, the people of Bengal experienced a food shortage. It is then that the British government, instead of helping the Indians, decided to export food to the British army, which, added to other decisions such as a "scorched earth" policy, led to a great famine that killed between 2,100,000 and 3,000,000 people.

Briggs' Plan

During the Malayan Emergency, the Briggs Plan was a military plan devised to isolate the Communist Party of Malaya from rural support. For this, some 500,000 peasants were forcibly stripped of their lands and taken to the "New Villages", which were internment camps with very poor conditions and receiving very bad treatment.

Operation Ajax

The United States government initiated "Operation Ajax" in 1953, with the help of the British government and a group of Iranian insurgents. This was a plan to overthrow prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in order to increase the power of exiled ruler Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, thus resulting in Pahlavi giving a monopoly on Iranian oil to the two countries.

Cyprus Emergency

In 1956, Britain officially used collective punishment in Cyprus in the form of evicting families from their homes and closing shops anywhere British soldiers and police had been murdered, to obtain information about the identities of the attackers.

Expulsion of the Chagossians

Due to the request of the United States to create a military base in the Chagos Islands, the British government deported the entire population of the islands, first killing their pet dogs under the orders of Bruce Greatbatch, and then sending them on ships to Mauritius and Seychelles, where they were left in poor places and without any help.

Operation Demetrius

Operation Demetrius was an operation carried out by the British Army in Northern Ireland, during The Troubles. This involved the arrest and imprisonment without trial of persons suspected of having ties to the Irish Republican Army. During this operation, many civilians who had no ties to the organization were interned and tortured by the British authorities, apart from the fact that the operation generated more violence in the area, which led to many civilian deaths (some perpetrated by British authorities).

Involvement in Operation Blue Star

Margaret Thatcher's government was aware of Indira Gandhi's intent to launch Operation Blue Star in an attempt to eliminate Sikh militants by storming the Golden Temple, and had provided an SAS officer to advise the Indian authorities. This and other assistance was reportedly intended to safeguard the UK's arms sales to India. Relevant UK government records have been censored.

War Crimes

Boer Wars

  • On 19-20 August 1901, several British soldiers carried out reprisals against Boer rebels in revenge for the killing and mutilation of Captain Percy Hunt. These reprisals included the extrajudicial execution of prisoner Floris Visser and the shootings of eight people arrested at Elim Hospital. Two of the soldiers, Breaker Morant and Peter Handcock, later became the first British soldiers to be convicted of war crimes.

Mau Mau

  • As previously mentioned, the British detained and tortured many civilians in Kenya. A lot of people were sexually assaulted, beaten or whipped to extract information from them.
  • The Chuka Massacre took place in June 1953 when members of the King's African Rifles detained 20 suspected rebels and executed them. These people were not rebels, and were in fact UK loyalists who supported the British military effort.
  • Hussein Onyango Obama, grandfather of Barack Obama, was captured by British soldiers who drove metal pins into his fingers and beat him. Two other men were castrated.


  • In November 2019, BBC News reported that the British government and military were accused of covering up the killing and torture of civilians and children during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Leaked documents allegedly contain evidence implicating British troops in killing children and the torture of civilians in these regions.


  • An Iraqi policeman named Raid al-Mosawi was shot dead by a British soldier after leaving his family home.
  • A prisoner named Baha Mousa was tortured so severely in British custody that he later died. His killer, Donald Payne, became the first British soldier to be convicted of war crimes since the Boer War.