Enforced disappearances widespread in Africa, data suppressed— analysts
Available data on enforced disappearances in Africa does not reflect the magnitude of the problem, analysts have said.
Most cases are not reported or officially registered, they added, because security agents operate covertly.
Mwangi is a member of the Working Group on the Death Penalty, Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, and Enforced Disappearances in Africa.
Nudd is a member of the technical drafting committee on the guidelines for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances in Africa.
Namwaya is the East Africa Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Missing Voices organized the webinar to discuss the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) guidelines adopted in May and published in October this year.
“Last year, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances reported around 46,000 cases of enforced disappearances, and only 4,700 of them relate to the African continent,” Mwangi said.
The lack of awareness about the crime, challenges in the rule of law, and absence of political goodwill contribute to the lack of systemized data, Mwangi added.
Missing Voices, since 2017, has documented 244 enforced disappearances. This year alone, Missing Voices up until October this year, has recorded 11 cases, showing how difficult it is to get real data despite the prevalence of the crime.
ACHPR created the guidelines to support its member states, including Kenya, to implement their commitment to ban enforced disappearances.
Nudd said the impact of this crime affects all.
“The point behind these guidelines was to raise awareness about the issues in the continent, make sure the state and CSOs start understanding what is enforced disappearance and hopefully open a path for the victims to obtain justice,” she said.
She said guidelines affirm the legal obligations of the state from the international treaties ratified by the African countries.
Namwaya said enforced disappearances in Kenya have been perpetuated by counterterrorism measures dating from 2007.
“Initially we thought the ATPU was arresting people and disappearing them,” Namwaya said.
“But with time we came to learn there were units drawn from different groups like the Rapid Response Team (RRT), mainly drawn from the GSU recce squad supported by the ATPU and the military intelligence.”
Namwaya said RRT operates at night and in a commando-like style.
When RRT makes an arrest, they either take victims to the police station or disappear them.
“When they take them to a police station, they don’t register them, and police don’t acknowledge anyone was brought there,” Namwaya added.
Mwangi said the guidelines complement the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Kenya has not ratified this convention.
“This makes it hard for Kenya to implement the guidelines,” Mwangi said.
Legislation to criminalize enforced disappearances is still lacking in Kenya, Mwangi said, and enforcement agencies don’t understand what this crime is all about.
“We don’t have good forensic documentation within the country,” he added.
The military should not participate in policing duties, Namwaya said, if they do, there has to be a clear command structure.
“When families go to the military barracks to seek their relatives, the military says they don’t arrest people and ask the families to check with the police. Police will deny the arrests and return the families to the military. It becomes a ping-pong game,” Namwaya said.