Crisis of Inaction on Enforced Disappearances in Africa
Research by NGO coalition shows that underreporting and political disregard are undermining victims’ fight for justice
A new report researched by REDRESS and supported by the findings from partner organisations, launched today, The Forgotten Victims: Enforced Disappearance in Africa, highlights the prevalence of the practice on the continent and the many obstacles faced by victims seeking justice, truth, and reparations.
The report, produced as part of a three-year project by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL), MENA Rights Group, REDRESS, and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human rights (ZLHR), and produced with pro-bono support of the law firm Linklaters, exposes an absence of political will to confront the practice and a crisis of underreporting across the region. Only 17 of 54 African countries have ratified the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), the main international treaty on the practice, which bans it.
Today, African and international experts will meet at a webinar to discuss the report’s findings and efforts to reform regional and national laws and policies to prevent and protect against enforced disappearance and advance accountability efforts. The webinar, The Struggle of Victims of Enforced Disapperances in Africa to Obtain Justice, Truth and Reparations, will take place at 4pm East Africa Time (1pm GMT).
Enforced disappearances have been prevalent in Africa since colonial governments used them to suppress local populations. Current African governments frequently commit enforced disappearances against minorities or to silence opposition movements, for instance, in times of armed conflict or civil unrest.
As of 2020, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances was considering 4,783 reported cases of enforced disappearance in African countries, over 10% of the global total. Reported cases on the continent were highest in Algeria (3,253), Egypt (308), Burundi (238), Sudan (177), Morocco (153), and Ethiopia (113).
However, these numbers only reflect cases submitted to the UN body, and do not capture the broader reality on the ground. In fact, the new report reveals that underreporting is widespread and that many victims in Africa do not report the crime for fear of reprisals and weak rule of law.
Many African States deny that enforced disappearances take place, or that they have taken place, and do not investigate or keep official records to track cases.
The absence of political will to address the problem is reflected in the lack of adequate domestic laws to prevent and protect against this crime. As a result, victims in Africa are left with no meaningful prospect of redress.
Additional research undertaken by the coalition also shows that in some instances authorities have adopted laws effectively preventing families of disappeared persons from pursuing justice and uncovering the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, as well as granting amnesties to perpetrators.
The coalition is calling on African States, particularly Algeria, Libya, Sudan and Zimbabwe— to:
- Become a party to the ICPPED and accept the full competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims and other state parties;
- Criminalise enforced disappearances under domestic law with a definition consistent with the ICPPED, and provide appropriate penalties which recognise the seriousness of the crime;
- Publicly acknowledge the use of enforced disappearances on their territories and give explicit instructions to all State institutions that enforced disappearances will not be tolerated and those who commit them will be held to account;
- Investigate crimes of enforced disappearance and hold those responsible to account;
- Ensure that survivors and victims’ families receive reparations, including compensation, rehabilitation, restitution and guarantees of non-recurrence;
- Take effective measures to prevent enforced disappearances, including by ensuring the rights of those in detention;
- Repeal any amnesty laws or any other law that facilitates enforced disappearances and impunity.
On this International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the coalition hopes this research will contribute to a better understanding of the practice, the first step towards a world where enforced disappearances do not take place.
Other publications produced as part of the three-year project on enforced disappearances can be found on our organisations’ websites:
For more information or for an interview, please contact:
Amir Suliman, ACJPS’ Legal Programme Director, at [email protected] or +256783661084.
Tim Molyneux, Lawyers for Justice in Libya’s Strategic Communications Manager, at [email protected] or +44 (0)7501 395067 .
Eva Sanchis, REDRESS’ Head of Communications, at [email protected] or +44 (0)7857 110076.
Kumbirai Mafunda, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights’ Communications Officer, at [email protected] or +263 773 855 611.