Law lecturer welcomes historic UN resolution

A law lecturer has welcomed a UN Resolution which condemns harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.

I intend to include reference to this work and the processes involved in my teaching on the International Human Rights module. This is a great example of how research and concerted actions by a relatively few committed individuals can have real and positive impacts internationally.

Dr Samantha Spence, Lecturer

Dr Samantha Spence, from Staffordshire University’s Centre for Crime, Justice and Security, says the passing of the resolution is the culmination of years of work to understand the scale of the problem and acts of extreme violence taking place globally.

She said: “In the last decade there have been 20,000 reported incidents across 50 countries and six continents so while the condemnation of such practices by UN member states is significant, in many ways it is just the start of the journey and the work needs to continue.”

Dr Spence explained that the resolution follows years of intensive advocacy by the coalition of survivors, NGOs, academics and lawyers to raise awareness of an issue that often goes underreported.

She has worked closely with Lancaster University’s Dr Charlotte Baker and Gary Foxcroft, Director of the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), helping to organise a UN experts workshop on Witchcraft and Human Rights in Geneva and an international academic conference in the UK on the issues.

Dr Spence also researched the impacts of accusations of witchcraft and persecutions on women from four countries - India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Ghana - as part of her PhD but says there are examples here in the UK and the victims are not always women.

One of them is Mardoche Yembi, who was just eight years old when accused by a pastor of being a witch in London. Commenting on the UN Resolution, he said: “When I heard the news about the resolution I felt fantastic. I can see that there is now hope for the future, especially for those who are going through what I suffered. Importantly, I also see real progress as 10 years ago it wasn’t like this. Thanks to all of the people who have helped make this happen there is now light at the end of the tunnel that these terrible practices may one day be eradicated”.

Across the world, women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, particularly persons with albinism, and other conditions such as epilepsy, autism and dementia suffer wide-ranging human rights abuses due to Harmful Practices Related to Accusations of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks (HPAWR). These include, but are not limited to, killings, mutilation, exploitation and sale of persons, organs and body parts, burnings, grave robberies, torture and significant stigmatization of victims and their family members.

Root causes include entrenched ignorance about causes of sickness and death, religious profiteering, as well as lack of access to adequate health care and information, poverty, and weak systems of justice and security.

Dr Spence added: “I intend to include reference to this work and the processes involved in my teaching on the International Human Rights module. This is a great example of how research and concerted actions by a relatively few committed individuals can have real and positive impacts internationally.”

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