October 06, 2020
An NGO coalition comprising the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL), MENA Rights Group, REDRESS and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) welcome a resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) calling for guidelines aimed at ending enforced disappearances in Africa.
In Resolution 448 adopted on 7 August, the Commission tasked a working group with presenting draft Guidelines for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances in Africa within a year. The guidelines are intended to “improve the situation of victims of enforced disappearance and … contribute to preventing such practice in the continent.”
Enforced disappearances involve the deprivation of liberty of a person against their will by state agents or those acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, with no acknowledgement of the victim’s fate or whereabouts. Disappeared people are placed outside the protection of the law leaving them vulnerable to many other abuses including torture.
Members of the NGO coalition have documented numerous incidents of disappearances and acts of torture in the region, aimed at suppressing peaceful dissent or those perceived to be threats to national security.
Since the 1980s, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, an international expert body which examines individual cases, has received over 5,000 complaints of disappearances taking place in African countries. However, this number is only the tip of the iceberg, as official denials and a lack of proper records make it virtually impossible to know the real scale of this practice in the region.
Only 17 out of 54 African countries have ratified the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the main international treaty which bans the practice. There is also no regional treaty which addresses the problem in Africa.
“Enforced disappearances have been committed with impunity for decades in Africa, and victims left forgotten, yet African States are obliged to prevent and investigate this crime and to bring any perpetrators to justice,” said Eva Nudd, REDRESS’ Legal Advisor. “We welcome the efforts of the Commission, which will help to highlight the prevalence of this crime in the region, and the need to take firm steps within the African Union to eradicate it.”
“With many governments failing to meet their responsibilities to tackle this problem, this resolution is a welcome step in the right direction,” said LFJL’s Senior Programmes Officer Elise Flecher. “States across the region should not only support this initiative by working together to end this crime once and for all, but should also demonstrate their commitment by ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as a first step.”
ACJPS, LFJL, MENA Rights Group, REDRESS and ZLHR are working on a three-year project that seeks to support human rights lawyers and victims’ groups to bring cases challenging enforced disappearances, empower victims to speak about their own experiences and needs, and raise awareness about the problem with the African Union, relevant UN bodies and specific governments.