Advocacy statements

Witchcraft related human rights violations in Malawi

  • Date / 2022
  • Location / Malawi
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


Humanists International

UN Human Rights Council, 52nd session (27 February – 4 April 2023)

General Debate 3

We welcome the report of the UN High Commissioner on human rights violations related to accusations of witchcraft.[1]

I make this statement on behalf of Humanists International and our member organization, Humanists Malawi.

As the report notes, tackling witchcraft-related violence requires addressing its root causes, which include high-levels of poverty and illiteracy. Malawi is both one of the poorest countries in the world, and one where witchcraft belief is deeply-rooted.[2]

We are concerned that Malawi is currently considering a legal amendment to recognize the existence of witchcraft in line with ‘Malawian beliefs.’[3] This approach is misguided. Access to justice for alleged witches is already severely limited because many law enforcement and policy officials themselves believe in witchcraft.[4]

By providing further legitimacy to the idea that ‘witchcraft’ exists, the government risks further stigmatizing those denounced as ‘witches’, normalizing impunity for witchcraft-related violence, and  undermining the work of civil society organizations.

As we emphasized in our recent joint written submission, children’s equal right to education, including access to a curriculum that promotes a scientific temper and critical thinking skills, is an essential tool that will empower individuals to reject harmful superstitions.[5]

We call on Malawi, as a member of this Council, to heed the report’s recommendations, and to develop an effective strategy that addresses the harmful superstitions underlying witchcraft accusations, rather than engage in needless fear mongering.

I thank you.


[1] A/HRC/52/47

[2] According to one survey by Afrobarometer, three in four Malawians (74%) believe “a lot” in the existence of witchcraft, while almost three-fourths (72%) of Malawians say witchcraft should be criminalized, available at: https://www.afrobarometer.org/articles/most-malawians-believe-in-the-existence-of-witchcraft-and-support-criminalising-it/

[3] https://news.mijmw.com/humanists-worried-as-over-half-of-malawians-believe-witchcraft-exists/


[5] https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/issues/women/cfi-witchcraft-hrc52/witchcraft-HRC52-cso-International-Humanist-and-Ethical-Union-et-al.docx

Suggested academic reference

'Witchcraft related human rights violations in Malawi', Humanists International

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