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Situation in the Sub-Saharan region

In its 2005 report he Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) noted underreporting of cases of enforced disappearances in Sub-Saharan Africa. The UNWGEID was concerned with this as this part of the African continent has been particularly prone to internal armed conflict and political tension resulting in many disappearances.

Although Human rights NGOs have problems collecting data on enforced disappearances in Africa they do have some more general number on disappearances. There is an enormous gap between the numbers of the NGOs and the communications the UNWGEID receives. This gap can be seen as prove of the underreporting. A survey carried out carried out by Linking Solidarity showed that the UNWGEID hand received communication on little more than 2100 cases of enforced disappearances in the region, whereas according to the total numbers (an average of figures of local and international NGOs) more than 30,000 enforced disappearances had been counted.

The Working group has tried to analyse reasons for underreporting and factors leading to underreporting. It came up with the following:

  • poverty
  • illiteracy,
  • submissiveness to fatalism,
  • fear of reprisal,
  • weakness of administration of justice,
  • ineffectual reporting channels and mechanisms,
  • institutionalized systems of impunity
  • practice of silence.

Underreporting of disappearances in certain regions and countries is also due to restrictions on the work of civil society on this sensitive issue. Unfortunately, in some regions non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are not numerous and not organized well enough to be able to work effectively on disappearance.

Repressive African governments do not seem to use disappearances in a systematic way as a tool for oppression. However, the numerous conflicts lead to displacement and killing of millions. In many cases that many whose fate and whereabouts are unknown are actually disappeared. Whether one can actually speak of enforced disappearance depends on a number of factors. An important factor in the case of ‘disappearances’ in conflict situations is the ‘denial of the State to provide information regarding the fate or whereabout of a particular person’. In cases where the State has not denied this, but has also not been active in seeking information, the status of the persons that have ‘disappeared’ is unclear. They are certainly missing, but it is not clear whether they are victim of an enforced disappearance.

In its 2005 report the Working Group therefore recommended “that the international community and international NGOs support the development and strengthening of regional and national civil society institutions that could deter serious human rights violations, such as in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world. (Annual Report UNWGEID, par.504)

Countries and Data

Most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been affected by enforced disappearances. Countries with a recent history of enforced disappearances, and/or where disappearances still occur now, are:

Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, The Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe.

Although the Working Group has not received any report of new cases this year, they remain concerned about disappearances not only in Sudan, but in the whole Sub-Saharan region. There are many countries in Africa where enforced disappearances occur or have been occurring. It is very difficult to accurately assess the number of cases and therefore to rank countries according to the number of disappeared persons. But reports from international human rights NGOs indicate disappearances  in countries like Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Namibia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.



There is much diversity among NGO actors involved in the struggle against disappearances in Sub-Sahara Africa. In some countries such as South Africa and Namibia families of the disappeared have formed well-organised pressure groups. In a large number of countries, however the families rely for assistance on human rights NGOs with a broader approach and set of priority concerns.

Some of the organisations that are operative in the area of human rights and specifically on the issue of Enforced disappearances in the Sub-Sahara region are:

  • Ligue pour la Défense des droits de l’Homme (LDH), (Benin)
  • Association pour la solidarité des femmes Burundaises, (Burundi),
  • AFRICAPHONIE (Cameroon),
  • Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme (NDH) (Cameroon),
  • Observatoire Congolais des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH) (RC),
  • ASADHO/KATANGA Association, Africaine des Droits de l’Homme (DRC)
  • Ethiopian Human Rights Council, (EHRCO),
  • Association des Veuves et Victimes de la 1ère République,(Guinée),
  • Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, (Malawi),
  • Breaking the Wall of Silence, (Namibia),
  • Association of Genocide Widows (AVEGA), (Rwanda),
  • Organisation Nationale des Droits de l’Homme (Sénégal)
  • RADDHO (Sénégal), (
  • Réseau des Femmes Africaines Chefs de Familles (Sénégal),
  • Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, (South Africa),
  • Khulumani Support group, (South Africa), (
  • Lawyers for Human Rights (South Africa)
  • AFRONET, (Zambia),
  • SAHRINGON, Southern African Human Rights NGO Network.