Humanists International calls on African Commission to tackle witchcraft-related human rights abuses

  • post Type / Advocacy News
  • Date / 19 November 2020

Humanists International has urged the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to take concrete action against the plethora of human rights abuses related to witchcraft accusations on the continent.

In a written report submitted to the 67th session of the ACHPR, Humanists International has called on the Commission to condemn the actions of prominent individuals, including well-known Christian preachers, who exploit the belief in witchcraft for personal financial gain. The report asked the Commission to recommend draft wording to States for legislation addressing witchcraft accusations and urged it to promote further regulations on the harmful practices of traditional healers. It also called for the Commission to organize a conference on witchcraft and human rights abuses. The written report to the ACHPR complements Humanists International’s written statement to the UN Human Rights Council, which tackled the persecution of alleged witches in a global context and was submitted earlier this year.

Human rights violations associated with witchcraft accusations are marked by extreme violence, and include acts such as human trafficking, human sacrifice, mutilation, torture and killing.

Flags of Member States of the African Union

Such violations go against a range of rights protected by the African Charter and other international human rights treaties. They include the right to life, the right not to be subject to torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, the right not to be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of a protected characteristic, amongst other core rights.

Cases have been recorded in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Cameroon, Tanzania, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Uganda. Exact numbers of victims are unknown, as many instances go unreported and unmonitored by official bodies.

Victims of witchcraft persecution tend to belong to marginalized groups with limited resources to fight back against accusations, due to their age, gender, caste or possession of a disability.

The statement also highlighted the role of some religious movements in exacerbating the issue. The persecution of alleged witches is a lucrative business and religious leaders are able to charge exorbitant fees for the performance of exorcisms from desperate families.

In addition to recommendations to the ACHPR, the statement also issued specific recommendations to several of its Working Groups. The Working Group on Death Penalty, Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Africa was urged to investigate incidents of arbitrary and extra-judicial killings arising from witchcraft accusations and to publish a report of its findings. Whilst the Working Group on Rights of Older Persons and People with Disabilities was called on to adopt recommendations for overcoming the association of older persons and persons with disabilities with witchcraft practices.

Humanists International has 18 Members and Associates based in Africa.

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