UN Experts Express Grave Concern Over Disappearances, Mass Graves in Nigeria

Innoventia Africa – In a scathing report, United Nations (UN) human rights experts have expressed grave concern over the “unsettling and still unaccounted number of missing persons and disconcerting reports of mass graves” in Nigeria.

Enforced disappearances are a widespread and systemic problem in Nigeria. The perpetrators include non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram or Islamic State’s West Africa Province, and criminal gangs.

Enforced disappearances are often used as a tool of repression and intimidation against the population, local government, dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders.

During the scrutiny of Nigeria’s initial report under the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, Country Co-Rapporteur Suela Janina and Country Co-Rapporteur Juan Pablo Alban Alencastro, both members of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, intensified their focus on the country’s handling of these pressing issues.

Janina expressed alarm over the mysterious disappearance of numerous individuals and sought clarity regarding investigations into abductions orchestrated by Boko Haram. She further questioned the status of proposed legislation aimed at categorically criminalizing enforced disappearances as a heinous crime against humanity.

The Boko Haram insurgency has exacerbated the problem of enforced disappearances in Nigeria. The terrorist group has abducted thousands of people, including civilians, aid workers, and security personnel. The fate of many of these abductees remains unknown.

In 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State and rebranded as the Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP).

Alencastro highlighted the grave predicament of missing persons and the unsettling presence of mass graves in certain regions of Nigeria.

The absence of concrete data on these matters prompted his call for an immediate assessment of the graves, a systematic identification of those who have disappeared, the establishment of comprehensive data repositories, and the notification of affected families.

He further inquired into Nigeria’s legal stance concerning the forceful removal of children, seeking clarity on whether domestic laws directly criminalized this grave offense.

Kashim Adeiza Adamu, leading the Nigerian delegation, affirmed the government’s commitment to addressing enforced disappearances and safeguarding human rights.

He underscored Nigeria’s legislative framework, including the Anti-Torture Act of 2017, as well as the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission responsible for investigating allegations of enforced disappearances and related human rights abuses.

Adamu also detailed ongoing training programs for security forces and government agencies to uphold the principles of the rule of law and human rights.

Despite the report’s belated submission, the intense scrutiny underscored the urgency of addressing enforced disappearances in Nigeria and ensuring justice for victims and their families.

The UN experts’ concerns accentuated the imperative for transparency, accountability, and concrete actions by Nigeria to confront this pressing human rights issue.

In concluding remarks, Olivier de Frouville, Committee Chair, expressed regret that answers to Committee Experts’ questions could not be delivered immediately.

He said that the Committee looked forward to receiving answers in writing. In closing, he expressed hope that cooperation between Nigeria and the Committee would deepen over time.

– Analysis

The UN experts’ report is a damning indictment of Nigeria’s record on enforced disappearances.

The fact that the government has yet to criminally prosecute a single case of enforced disappearance is a testament to the impunity that perpetrators of this heinous crime enjoy.

The government’s commitment to addressing enforced disappearances remains to be seen. While the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission is a positive step, the commission has been criticized for its lack of independence and capacity.

The UN experts’ report is a timely reminder of the need for urgent action to address enforced disappearances in Nigeria.

The government must demonstrate its commitment to justice and accountability by criminally prosecuting perpetrators, establishing an independent and effective commission of inquiry to investigate all cases of enforced disappearance, and providing support and reparations to victims and their families.


The UN experts’ report is a welcome step in the fight against enforced disappearances in Nigeria. The report highlights the need for urgent action by the government to address this pressing human rights issue.

Much more needs to be done to end the practice of enforced disappearances and bring perpetrators to justice.

By Felix Tih

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