REDRESS and Partners Welcome Adoption of First African Instrument to End Enforced Disappearances in Africa

REDRESS together with partner organizations Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), MENA Rights Group, Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) welcome the adoption of the first African instrument aimed to eradicate and prevent enforced disappearances, and to improve the situation of victims.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Africa’s main human rights body, announced the adoption of the Guidelines for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances in Africa on 13 May 2022, at its 71st Ordinary Session in Banjul, The Gambia.

The adoption of the Guidelines follows efforts by the organizations working in Africa to bring the issue of enforced disappearances to the attention of key stakeholders, including the need to do more to secure justice and accountability to victims. As part of a project on enforced disappearances, the organisations published several detailed reports with recommendations for legal and policy reform, highlighting the plight of those seeking justice, the lack of remedies available to victims, and the widespread use of the practice by governments in Africa. The organisations also engaged with the African Commission, UN bodies, human rights lawyers, victims, and civil society, activists and human rights defenders.

Over the last three years the organisations supported the work of the African Commission by convening several expert workshops and events, in which many regional and international experts participated. Participants included Gabriela Citroni and Aua Balde, members of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (UNWGEID); Bernard Duhaime and Houria El-Slami, former members of the UNWGEID; the late Christof Heyns, former member of the UN Human Rights Committee and Matar Diop and Olivier de Frouville, members of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances. This work also benefited from invaluable assistance by a pro bono team at Linklaters led by Charalampos Dimoulis, Emma Kate Cooney and Liberty Brown.

On 7 August 2020, the African Commission tasked a working group with drafting the Guidelines, to “help improve the situation of victims of enforced disappearance and will contribute to preventing such practice in the continent.” The Commission expressed concern that “enforced disappearances are still taking place on the continent, although this practice has been widely underreported.” Indeed, while the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UN WGEID) has received since 1980 over 4,000 claims from victims in Africa, these numbers are believed to be much higher, due to states’ denial of the use of this crime, victims’ fear of reporting cases, and a lack of official data. Impunity also remains the norm.

Only 17 out of 54 African states have ratified the main international treaty which bans the practice, the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, and there is yet to be a regional treaty to address this practice, contrary to the situation in other continents such as the Americas.

The new guidelines are not intended to replace existing standards and obligations contained in relevant international treaties and instruments. On the contrary, they seek to reinforce those international treaties and instruments and encourage African Union Member States to ratify them as a positive measure to prevent enforced disappearances on the continent.

Alejandra Vicente, Head of Law at REDRESS, said:

“While African states are obliged to prevent and protect against enforced disappearances, and to bring any perpetrators to justice, this crime continues to be committed with impunity in Africa. We welcome this significant step by the African Commission to confront this crime, and urge this body to publish the guidelines promptly, so they can assist African states in meeting their obligations to tackle this particularly cruel human rights abuse.”

Alexis Thiry, MENA Rights Group’s Legal Advisor, stated:

“In the absence of a regional binding document preventing and combating the crime of enforced disappearance, we hope that civil society organisations will seize upon this important document to hold States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights accountable for its implementation.”

Mohamed Elmessiry, Head of Research and Capacity Building at LFJL, added:

“This is a welcome step by the African commission. These guidelines are crucial as they address the shortcomings in international law relating to tackling the crime of enforced disappearance in Libya. We urge the Libyan authorities to enforce these guidelines, once published, and ratify the relevant international and regional conventions to end this notorious crime that has been prevalent in Libya since 1969.”

More information about the work the organisations have been conducting on enforced disappearances in Africa 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 +256754717100.
  • Mohamed Elmessiry, Head of Research and Capacity Building at LFJL, 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.

Photo credit: Alamy Stock Photos