End enforced disappearances in Africa now

Ahead of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30 August, an NGO coalition is calling on African States to end this practice immediately, hold perpetrators to account, search for the disappeared and provide reparations to the victims and their families.

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (Sudan), Lawyers for
Justice in Libya, MENA Rights Group (Algeria), Zimbabwe Lawyers for
Human Rights and REDRESS (UK) have documented numerous incidents of
disappearances and acts of torture in the region, aimed at suppressing
peaceful dissent or those perceived to be threats.Enforced disappearances involve the deprivation of liberty of a person
against his/her will by state agents, those working with them, or
others acting with the tolerance of the state, with no acknowledgement
of the victim’s fate or whereabouts. Disappeared people are vulnerable
to many other abuses including torture. It is a heinous crime which
can leave the disappeared persons, their families and communities
living in fear of what will happen to them and uncertain about the
fate of their loved ones.

During nationwide protests that led to the ousting of President Omar
al-Bashir in Sudan last year, security forces and government-backed
paramilitaries purportedly used enforced disappearances to preserve
national security. On 3 June 2019, more than a dozen protesters went
missing when security forces attacked peaceful demonstrators at a
sit-in in Khartoum. Over a hundred civilians were reportedly killed
and hundreds more injured. Protesters were also beaten and detained,
subjected to rape, and other forms of intimidation and humiliation.

In Libya, since 2011, the Libyan state and militias acting with the
support or acquiescence of the state have disappeared thousands of
people for their real or perceived political opinion or affiliations,
tribal links, human rights activism or identity in a prevalent
environment of impunity. On 17 July 2020, Libya marked one year since
armed men abducted prominent lawmaker and women’s human rights
defender Seham Sergiwa from her home in Benghazi. She had called for
an end to a military offensive on Tripoli on television three days
before her disappearance. Her fate, like so many others, remains

In Zimbabwe, three female opposition leaders –  Joanna Mamombe,
Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova –  were stopped at a police
checkpoint on their way to a peaceful protest in March 2020, abducted,
tortured and sexually assaulted. To date, no investigation has been
conducted to identify those responsible.

Across the region, impunity remains the norm. Almost two decades after
the Algerian civil war, relatives are still searching for their loved
ones. More than 7,000 people disappeared during the conflict. Former
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered a full amnesty for members of
the security forces responsible for gross human rights violations. The
UN Human Rights Committee has decided over 30 cases of enforced
disappearances against Algeria. To this day,  the Algerian government
refuses to implement the specific recommendations made by the
Committee, deepening the suffering of victims and leaving them with no
remedy to fulfil their rights.

Since the 1980s, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or
Involuntary Disappearances, an international expert body which
examines individual cases, has received over 5,000 complaints from
African countries. However, this number does not reflect the scope of
this practice as official denial and a lack of proper records makes it
nearly impossible to know the real number.
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.
Algeria, Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and all other African countries that
have yet to become parties to the Convention should do so, and adopt
legal safeguards to prevent this crime, hold perpetrators accountable,
search for the disappeared and provide reparations to victims.
“Since 2011, the Libyan state and its affiliated militias have used
enforced disappearance as a tool to silence dissent, in a widespread
pattern that could amount to a crime against humanity,” said Mohamed
Elmessiry, Lawyers for Justice in Libya’s Head of Research and
Capacity Building. “The newly established Fact-Finding Mission on
Libya and the International Criminal Court must investigate this crime
alongside other human rights abuses and hold those responsible to
“Families of missing persons in Algeria continue to face hurdles in
their search for the truth. Eight months after the election of the new
president, who has claimed to be committed to the protection of
fundamental human rights, relatives of disappeared persons have seen
their claims unaddressed, and acts of reprisals against those speaking
out, have continued,” said Inès Osman, MENA Rights Group’s director.

“Enforced disappearances have been under the radar in Africa for many
decades, and victims left forgotten. African States are obliged to
prevent and investigate this crime, to bring any perpetrators to
justice, search for victims who were subjected to this practice and
provide their loved ones with assistance and reparations. African
States can’t hide any longer under a cloak of denial,” said Eva Nudd,
REDRESS’ Legal Advisor.

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