Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Witchcraft Related Violence: Human Rights Violations Against Women Labeled "Witches"

The UN Will Hold Its First Meeting to Discuss Witchcraft-Related Violence (Sept. 2017)

Every year, thousands of people are accused of witchcraft and face persecution, abuse, and even death. Now the United Nations is organizing to defend victims of witch hunts.

 

According to the UN, reports of witch hunts are on the rise, and cases are becoming more violent and prevalent across the globe. Experts and academics hope that the conference will raise awareness of the phenomenon so that it can be better understood as a human rights problem and integrated into the UN's approach to humanitarian issues.

 

"Witchcraft beliefs are encountered on virtually all continents," explains Dr. Charlotte Baker, who launched the upcoming meeting with funding from Lancaster University. "Globally, witchcraft accusations and persecution have resulted in serious violations of human rights including beatings, banishment, cutting of body parts, amputation of limbs, torture and murder."

 

The UN has identified women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities as those most at risk of witch-related abuse. Foxcroft says that the violence can look different from country to country, from "elderly women being beaten, tortured, and killed in places like Kenya, Papua New Guinea, and India" to abuse in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is "mainly children who are targeted." According to the WHRN, those with albinism, autism and Down's syndrome have been targeted by such accusations, while a claim against an older woman is often used as an excuse to acquire her land and property.

 

What these cases share in common, however, is the startling lack of response from local judicial systems and the resulting impunity for the perpetrators. Branding someone a witch has historically been used to justify abuse, particularly by patriarchal religious leaders (see: the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690s), and experts like Foxcroft believe that the spread of witchcraft-related human rights abuses is exacerbated once more by faith leaders who spread malevolent beliefs in witchcraft to exploit people or extract money from the fearful public.

Sara Dehm & Jenni Millbank, Witchcraft Accusations as Gendered Persecution in Refugee Law, Social & Legal Studies (2018)

Witchcraft-related violence (WRV), in particular directed towards women and children, has become a source of increasing concern for human rights organisations in the current century. Yet for those fleeing WRV this heightened attention has not translated across into refugee status. This research examines how claims of WRV were addressed in all available asylum decisions in English, drawn from five jurisdictions. We argue that WRV is a manifestation of gender-related harm; one which exposes major failings in the application of refugee jurisprudence. Inattention to the religious and organisational elements of witchcraft practices, combined with gender insensitivity in analysis, meant that claims were frequently re-configured by decision-makers as personal grudges, or family or community disputes, such that they were not cognisable harms within the terms of the Refugee Convention; or they were simply disbelieved as far-fetched. The success rate of claims was low, compared to available averages, and, when successful, claims were universally accepted on some basis other than the witchcraft element of the case. This article focuses in particular upon cases where the applicant feared harm as an accused witch, while a second related article addresses those fearing persecution from witches or through the medium of witchcraft

Jenni Milbank & Anthea Vogl, Adjudicating Fear of Witchcraft Claims in Refugee Law, J of Law & Society (2018)

This research examines claims of witchcraft related violence (WRV) in asylum decisions. In refugee applications involving WRV those accused of witchcraft are largely women, and those fearing witchcraft are more often men. This is one of two interrelated articles reporting on cases where claimants feared harm from witchcraft or occult practices. We argue that WRV is a manifestation of gender-related harm, one which exposes major failings in the application of refugee jurisprudence. Systemic inattention to the meaning and application of the Convention ground of Religion, combined with gender insensitivity in analysis, meant that claims were frequently re-configured by decision-makers as personal grudges. The fear of witchcraft cases pose an acute ontological challenge to refugee status determination, as the claimed harm falls outside of what is understood to be objective, verifiable, or Convention-related. Male applicants struggled to make their claims comprehensible as a result of the feminised and ‘irrational’ characterization of witchcraft fears and beliefs.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2018/08/witchcraft-related-violence-human-rights-violations-against-women-labeled-witches.html

Gender, International, Religion | Permalink

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