In a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council, IHEU has called on the Council to join the fight against the twin evils of those practising witchcraft and those claiming to find and “cure” witches in Africa.
Witchcraft in Africa
Witchcraft is still widely practiced in many countries in Africa by witchdoctors who often use human body parts in their spells. Some witchdoctors employ gangs of young men to attack and kill victims, often young children, for their body parts, which are frequently removed while the victim is still alive. An estimated 300 people are killed each year in South Africa alone as a result of this practice.
But horrific though this practice is, it is only part of the problem. In Nigeria, in both the Muslim North and the Christian South, witch hunts are not uncommon and this has led to a second form of abuse. Some unscrupulous pastors, many linked to Pentecostal churches, have a lucrative trade in making unfounded accusations of witchcraft against young children. [The pastors then agree to “cure” the witches for a substantial fee. Many children are being ostracized and abandoned by their parents as a result of these accusations.]
Victims accused of witchcraft often suffer appalling abuse, reminiscent of the European witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many being burned alive.
Recent reports of witch hunting and kidnappings by militias in the Gambia under the orders of the President have highlighted the problem of witch hunts.
In Tanzania, Albinos are targeted for their body parts which are believed to bring good luck. [Similar situations exist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.[6, 7, 8] It has been a tradition in Ghana, Zambia and Kenya to accuse childless old women of witchcraft.]
In Nigeria one unscrupulous pastor who has made a fortune from unfounded accusations of witchcraft is Helen Ukpabio, the leader of Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries. [In her book ‘Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft’ she states that a child under the age of two that cries at night and has poor health is ‘an agent of Satan’. This ridiculous claim has ensured Ms Ukpabio a steady stream of parents paying to have their children ‘cured’.]
We are making available copies of the IHEU written statement [A/HRC/12/NGO/xx] on this issue.
[IHEU and the UK charity Stepping Stones Nigeria have been campaigning against witchcraft and false accusations of witchcraft in Nigeria. At an anti-witchcraft conference in Calabar, Cross River State last month, one of our international representatives, Leo Igwe, was assaulted and robbed by about 100 supporters of Helen Ukpabio.]
Mr President, we are calling on this Council, the African Union and the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights, to urge governments to do more – through improved education and better policing – to eliminate the twin scourges of those practicing witchcraft and those claiming to find and “cure” witches.
Thank you sir.