The UN Hosts a Workshop on Witchcraft and Human Rights

For years, NGOs have been advocating for and warning about the dire situation of women around the world being accused of, and subsequently abused, on the grounds of witchcraft.

In 2014, the United Nations reported that witchcraft accusations that are used to justify extreme violence against older women were reported in 41 African and Asian countries...[and] older widows are often those most at risk.” Due to the fact that elderly women are especially at risk of being targeted due to discriminatory attitudes and practices, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Member States to “enact and enforce stronger laws and strategies to address all aspects of this under-acknowledged social, public health and human rights issue.”

Cross-culturally, it is difficult to define the terms ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft,’ which can signify various different traditions or faith healing practices depending on the context.  With a lack of definition, there is also no normative framework or formal mechanism which ensures effective response or monitoring of human rights violations based on ‘witchcraft’.

21-22 September 2017, has marked a ground-breaking step towards prioritizing this issue. The United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva—in collaboration with multiple Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva, NGOs, and Lancaster University—has hosted an expert workshop on witchcraft and human rights, gathering civil society, country representatives, UN experts, and academics to discuss solutions to this practice.

Kate Gilmore, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, made an address the workshop, stating that there is a need for more robust state-led response and action from judicial systems because there currently is a lack of coherence in prevention, investigation, and prosecution of human rights abuses related to witchcraft. She also stated that the “concern with harm not belief, deeds first, not thoughts, and with cruel, tangible costs—physically and mentally—against those who are ultimately victims of discrimination.”

Considering the specialization in conscience, thought, and belief that Soteria International has pursued, we would argue that it is not a long-term solution to push the beliefs and thoughts which lead to such abuses to the way side. Without addressing the underlying reasons for which the physical and mental harm are taking place, there will never be an effective solution.

Soteria International advocates for the freedom of belief, but, clearly condemns any physical, mental, or emotional abuse of individuals based on supposed ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ ideology.

Soteria International has been conducting research on what we deem the modern day, western version of witch hunts, which you can read more about in our previous articles on Spiritual Minorities and Sexual Abuse, the OKC Tibetan Buddhist Organization, Militarized Raids Against Spiritual Communities,  and the Twelve Tribes Community. In the field, we have noticed that even in developed countries, these abuses occur on the background of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of new religious movements, and in these cases, it is often institutional and state-led abuses.

Our organization supports the dialogue taking place between these various actors, and hopes that it will begin to shed light, not only, on the blatant abuses taking place in countries where women are suffering from accusations of witchcraft, but also that it will ignite the dialogue surrounding the disguised witch hunts taking place in our own backyard.

You can read more about the workshop which took place at the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner homepage