Humanists International has renewed its call on the UN to give more attention to the persecution of alleged witches in its human rights agenda. In a written statement submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, Humanists International examined the global phenomenon of witchcraft-related human rights abuses and made concrete recommendations on courses of action the UN should take. The statement, published by the UN this month, was drafted with the help and advice of Nigerian activist and Humanists international Board Member Dr. Leo Igwe, who founded Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) with the aim of eradicating the practice of witchcraft persecution by 2030.
Using examples from Nigeria, Ghana, India, Malawi and elsewhere, the statement describes how witchcraft accusations in certain communities serve as a precursor to extreme acts of mob violence, often with fatal consequences. Victims of witchcraft-related persecution are often already marginalised in their communities, whether due to their age, gender, caste or possession of a disability. For survivors, the stigma can mean a lifetime of physical and psychological trauma.
The statement points out that one of the reasons why witchcraft-related persecution has proven difficult to address is that there is not one simple explanation for why the phenomenon has continued to grow over the last 10-20 years. There are the individual actors who encourage ‘witchhunts’ for their personal (financial) gain, including some Christian fundamentalist preachers and “witchdoctors”. But such actors would not be so influential without the deeprooted belief in witchcraft itself providing fertile grounds for exploitation.
Recognising that more resources and political will are needed to address this poorly understood issue, Humanists International has recommended that the UN Human Rights Council, amongst other measures, adopt a resolution on witchcraft-related human rights violations, which should recognise the severe nature of these abuses and emphasise that those who make witchcraft accusations are exploiting conditions of structural poverty and misogyny.
Responding to the publication, Leo Igwe said:
“The publication of this statement by the UN is a welcome development and a sign of hope and promise for the eradication of human rights abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs and allegations. Witch persecution poses enormous challenge to many countries and robust UN leadership is required to tackle this global menace”.
In 2017, Humanists International’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, and Leo Igwe participated in a ground-breaking high-level UN workshop on witchcraft and human rights.