Advocacy statements

Joint statement on the fear of witch-craft

  • Date / 2013
  • Location / Burkina Faso
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights

Center for Inquiry

Joint statement with International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 22nd Session 25 February – 22 March 2013

Agenda Item 3: Civil and Political Rights

Witch-hunts and the Fear of Witchcraft

Mr President,

The fear of witchcraft is driving a wave of human rights abuses across many parts of the world. Many governments have caved in to witchcraft fears by failing to uphold, protect and defend the rights of persons alleged to be witches, and by making witch hunts state policy.

In many countries, witchcraft related moral panic and hysteria target poor and vulnerable members of the population particularly women, children, elderly persons and people living with disabilities. The fear of witches is causing mob violence, death, internal displacement, xenophobia and extra judicial killings.

People suspected of witchcraft are attacked, dispossessed of their property and exiled from their homes and communities in Cameroun, Gambia, Tanzania, Zambia, Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Burkina Faso, India, and Papua New Guinea.

Alleged witches are tortured and lynched by mobs, prosecuted, imprisoned or executed in Malawi, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Central African Republic for committing imaginary crimes.

Witch hunting individuals and groups operate with impunity in Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. They exploit popular fears of malevolent magic and spirit possession for political or financial gain. Witch hunters subject alleged witches to ‘a trial by ordeal’, to inhuman and degarding treatment in the name of exorcism.

Mr President, witchcraft is an imaginary offence and exists only in the minds of believers. Even those claiming to have such powers use only trickery and psychological means to impress believers. But the vast majority of those accused of witchcraft have never claimed such powers.

We are calling for the decriminalization of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia, Cameroun and the Central African Republic. We urge the Council to take up cases of witchcraft related abuse with concerned states and adopt pro-active measures to end the modern day witch hunts ravaging many parts of the globe.

Thank you sir.

Suggested academic reference

'Joint statement on the fear of witch-craft', Humanists International

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