Belief in witchcraft and the effects on human rights
Article: Salome Donkor
Beliefs in witchcrafts which dehumanizes the vulnerable in the society ,survives in modern technolocally developed cultural and remains a potent factor in most illiterate societies .It remains widespread in some communities ,where witch doctors are believed to wield great power in tribal societies.
In some cases, witchcraft offers an easy explanation to why one person is successful and another is not .Death, illness, dreams, superstition or even visible signs of success may be enough to harm others.
It is a common practice in some parts of the county for members of the community to banish people ,especially the elderly women and the disadvantaged ,from their communities when they are accused of possessing witch craft powers by ‘spiritualists’.
The fate of a suspected witch often hangs on the word of another and although such suspects deny the charge, they are still presumed guilty in view of the fact that witchcraft is virtually impossible to prove.
Some victims are stoned or lynched. The ‘lucky’ ones are sent, or escape to witch camps.
In Ghana a lot of women mostly elderly widowed are living like refugees in witchcamps, which are small settlements, inhabited by those accused of being witches and have been chased out or abused by men in their villages. Usually their movements are restricted in these camps which serve as ‘hideouts’ from witch hunters who torture, beat or kill them.
There are about seven of these camps in Ghana which can be found in the northern region and those in the camps have very little to live on though they are being taken care of by the chiefs and elders of the village. A number of children may also be found in these camps and most of them do not have access to education, rather they are made to assist the accused witches in their household chores.
On Friday, November 26, Ghanaians woke up to a rude shock when, they ‘read in the Daily Graphic the report of a frightful incident in which a 72-year-old woman was allegedly burnt alive by a mob at Tema Site 15, after being accused of witchcraft.
The report said a student-nurse appeared on the scene and attempted to rescue the old woman from her ordeal but she died of burns within 24 hours of arrival at the Tema General Hospital.
The incident attracted comments from the commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), which described the act as an “atrocious crime”, saying that it was “very barbaric and one that greatly dims the nation’s human rights record”.
The Co-ordinator of the Coalition on Domestic Violence Legislation in Ghana, Mr. Adolf Awuku Bekoe, in reaction to the Daily Graphic story, said it was saddening, especially as it came to a time when the world was celebrating 16 days of activism against domestic violence.
According to Amnesty International, discrimination is the root cause of violence, and that impunity perpetuates violations and abuses. Violence against women is pervasive throughout the world. Approximately, one out of three women will experience violence at some point in their lives, with rates reaching 70 per cent in some countries.
Countries that have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are legally bound to put its provisions into practice. By accepting the Convention, which was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, member states commit themselves to undertake a series of measure to end all forms of discrimination against women.
These states are enjoined by the Convention to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women; establish tribunal’s and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
They are also committed to submit national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.
Ghana has incorporated provisions of the Convention into the laws and practices of the country. This has resulted in the enactment of laws such as the Domestic Violence (DV) Act, 200 (Act 732) Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694), and provisions in the 1992 Constitution to reduce violence against women and other human rights abuses by reversing discrimination and providing equal protection before the law.
However, the reality of the situation is that significant challenges affect the enforcement of domestic violence laws.
The tragedy that befell the 72-year-old woman at Tema Site 15 was not the first of its kind. The mere suspicion of witchcraft was enough for the youth of Gbarimani, a farming community in the Tolon/Kumbungu District of the Northern Region, to attempt to lynch a 52-year-old woman, Fati Adam, a mother of eight, who had been accused of masterminding the death of her stepson through witchcraft.
She was dragged to the chief’s palace and held captive for three days without food, while being taken through some rituals to force her to confess.
The timely intervention of the police and the Northern Regional Co-ordinator of the Federation of international Woman Lawyers (FIDA) helped save the woman’s life.
Other reports published in the media recently also indicated that four persons, three women and a man were nearly banished from their communities in Tamale after a shrine claimed they used the powers of sorcery to harm some persons in Koblimahagu, a suburb of Tamale.
The four, were among seven people, who were accused of witchcraft and were sent to a shrine in the Tolon-Kumbungu District, where they underwent rituals and were declared guilty by the shrine. The other three were exonerated.
The commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) confirmed to the Daily Graphic that it was investigating the matter and promised to safeguard the rights of any individual, who is likely to be abused.
Another report also indicated that five women were accused of inflicting a strange disease on four young men in Koblimahagu leading to the death of one of them. The deceased has been identified as Fusiene Neindow.
The women were accused of planning to harm eight more people. These allegations were made by a spiritualist, known as ‘Jinwara’, in the local parlance.
Since 2006, Songtaba, a non-governmental organization together with its partners, has been playing lead roles in working in the witches’ camps with the aim of empowering the alleged witches to live dignified lives and enjoys their respective basic rights including participating in the decision-making process in a violence free environment.
The organization, in collaboration with Action Aid Ghana has drawn up a programme to work closely with the various district assemblies in the Northern Region where witch camps are located to effectively help and respond to the concerns of the alleged witches.
Another organization, the Southern Sector Youth and Women’s Empowerment Network (SOSYWEN) has taken steps to expose the conditions of women living in “Witch Camps” in the Northern Region of Ghana.
Recently, at an exhibition launched by the Southern Sector Youth and Women’s Empowerment Network (SOSYWEN) at the British Council Auditorium in Accra to highlight the conditions of women living in “Witch Camps” in the Northern Region of Ghana, the Co-ordinator of the Network, Ms. Zenabu L. Sakibu, said the issue is not about feminism, or gender, but rather abuse of human rights and human dignity, which demands prompt action from the government to put a stop to any cultural practice that dehumanizes people or tribe or gender.
Recently some people accused of witchcraft at the Gnani Camp in the Yendi Municipality of the Northern Region, demonstrated their frustrations when they make a passionate appeal to human rights activists and civil society organizations to help them reunite with their families. They made the appeal when the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ActionAid International, Madam Joana Ker, visited the camp as part of her one day maiden working visit to the Region, She was accompanied by the Director of Action Aid Ghana, Madam Adwoa Kluvitse.
They said although they would love to go home to be reintegrated with their respective communities and families, they were afraid to do so due to the attitude of their community members.
As was rightly pointed out by Mr. Bekoe, a clinical psychologist, witchcraft accusation was becoming a problem in the country and it was necessary that the government and the relevant authorities took proactive measures to help ensure that such violent acts did not occur.
Many people, especially the elderly, who show signs of forgetfulness, irritation and dementia, have been accused of witchcraft.
Since it is difficult to prove witchcraft, it is important to educate religious leaders, community members, families, women and youth groups to help change the negative perception of the society towards suspected witches, so that innocent lives would not be lost through such atrocities meted out to alleged witches and wizards, whose rights must be safeguarded.
Daily Graphic Page: 11 Thursday, December 2, 2010