By PATRICK ABANG, Calabar –
A coalition of UK and Nigeria based NGOs has used the International Day Against Witch Hunts on 10th August to call for government and key partners to join hands to implement the UN resolution on the elimination of witchcraft.
According to the coalition, the accusations of harmful practices relating to witchcraft and ritual attacks have contributed to one of the most challenging human rights issues of the 21st century.
“Every year, thousands of individuals around the world are accused of witchcraft or subject to ritual attacks, particularly in Africa
“They are harassed, bullied, beaten, banished, mutilated, ill-treated, tortured and killed. These harmful practices impact women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and persons with albinism in particular.
“The UN resolution urges States to condemn the widespread discrimination, stigma, social exclusion and forced displacement experienced by those accused of witchcraft, and to ensure accountability and the effective protection of all victims of witchcraft accusations.
It noted that three of the key people, who helped drive the process of this historic resolution believed more action is needed if it is to be implemented and such horrific human rights abuses are to be eradicated.
Barrister James Ibor of the Basic Rights Counsel Initiative said:
“Today marks another important step in the fight against witch hunts and witch hunters. Whilst some progress has been recorded in recent years, many women, children, elderly and disabled people in Nigeria face severe violations of their rights on a daily basis due to harmful beliefs and practices.
“We call upon the Federal and State governments, to use the Pan African Parliament guidelines on the issue to help guide them with the implementation on the UN resolution”.
According to Gary Foxcroft, Chairman of Trustees of Safe Child Africa in the UK, : “We have seen some good progress in recent years with regard to the child rights landscape in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, with enactment of implementation criminalising witchcraft accusations by the state governments.
“The Ministry of Justice in Akwa Ibom are also taking positive steps with training the judiciary and magistrates. However, often horrific cases are still regularly recorded and much more work needs to be done to help put in place appropriate awareness and capacity-building programmes to ensure that judges, lawyers, prosecutors and law enforcement officers have necessary skills to respond to cases of harmful practices related to witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks (HPWAR).
Director of Advocacy for Alleged Witches, Dr. Leo Igwe has been working tirelessly on these issues now for over 20 years and has personally rescued and supported numerous cases of HPWAR.
He said: “The response of national judicial systems differs between states and oftentimes human rights violations related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks are not prevented, investigated or prosecuted. Human rights mechanisms have until recently also been silent on the issue.
“This has emboldened perpetrators and perpetuated impunity”.
“Today, to mark this important day, all 3 NGOs have used their voices to call for much closer collaboration, support and guidance with the ongoing fight to put a stop to some of the 21st century’s most heinous crimes and atrocities, which are often carried out due to erroneous beliefs in witchcraft”, he said.