World Day Against Witch Hunts

August 10 is World day against witch hunts.

During the past five years I have frequently posted on this sad topic. See e.g. the following posts: Witchcraft Persecution and Advocacy without Borders in Africa, earlier this year, as well as the following country-specific postings: DRC, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe.

Although not the main focus of this website I find it useful and necessary to draw attention to this phenomenon which is based on superstition, violates human rights and creates many innocent victims – not only elderly women and men but also children, just like ritual murders.

I wish to commend Charlotte Müller and Sertan Sanderson of DW (Deutsche Welle) – see below – for an excellent article on this topic. It’s an impressive account of what happens to people accused of witchcraft and victims sof superstition.
(FVDK)

World Day Against Witch Hunts: People With Dementia Are Not Witches

Witch camps in Ghana

Published: August 4, 2023
By: The Ghana Report

August 10 has been designated World Day against Witch Hunts. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes this development and urges countries to mark this important day, and try to highlight past and contemporary sufferings and abuses of alleged witches in different parts of the globe.

Witchcraft belief is a silent killer of persons. Witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence in many places. People suspected of witchcraft, especially women and children, are banished, persecuted, and murdered in over 40 countries across the globe. Unfortunately, this tragic incident has not been given the attention it deserves.

Considered a thing of the past in Western countries, this vicious phenomenon has been minimized. Witch persecution is not treated with urgency. It is not considered a global priority. Meanwhile, witch hunting rages across Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

The misconceptions that characterized witch hunting in early modern Europe have not disappeared. Witchcraft imaginaries and other superstitions still grip the minds of people with force and ferocity. Reinforced by traditional, Christian, Islamic, and Hindu religious dogmas, occult fears and anxieties are widespread.

Many people make sense of death, illness, and other misfortunes using the narratives of witchcraft and malevolent magic. Witch hunters operate with impunity in many countries, including nations with criminal provisions against witchcraft accusations and jungle justice.

Some of the people who are often accused and targeted as witches are elderly persons, especially those with dementia.

To help draw attention to this problem, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches has chosen to focus on dementia for this year’s World Day against Witch Hunts. People with dementia experience memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion.

Their thinking and problem-solving abilities are impaired. Unfortunately, these health issues are misunderstood and misinterpreted. Hence, some people treat those with dementia with fear, not respect. They spiritualize these health conditions, and associate them with witchcraft and demons.

There have been instances where people with dementia left their homes or care centers, and were unable to return or recall their home addresses. People claimed that they were returning from witchcraft meetings; that they crash landed on their way to their occult gatherings while flying over churches or electric poles.

Imagine that! People forge absurd and incomprehensible narratives to justify the abuse of people with dementia. Sometimes, people claim that those suffering dementia turn into cats, birds, or dogs. As a result of these misconceptions, people maltreat persons with dementia without mercy; they attack, beat, and lynch them. Family members abandon them and make them suffer painful and miserable deaths. AfAW urges the public to stop these abuses, and treat people with dementia with care and compassion.

Source: World Day Against Witch Hunts: People With Dementia Are Not Witches

And:

Witch hunts: A global problem in the 21st century

Accusations of witchcraft typically affect the most vulnerable — such as this refugee living in the DRC
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Scoppa

Published: August 10, 2023
By: Charlotte Müller | Sertan Sanderson – DW

Witch hunts are far from being a thing of the past — even in the 21st century. In many countries, this is still a sad reality for many women today. That is why August 10 has been declared a World Day against Witch Hunts.

Akua Denteh was beaten to death in Ghana’s East Gonja District last month — after being accused of being a witch. The murder of the 90-year-old has once more highlighted the deep-seated prejudices against women accused of practicing witchcraft in Ghana, many of whom are elderly.

An arrest was made in early August, but the issue continues to draw attention after authorities were accused of dragging their heels in the case. Human rights and gender activists now demand to see change in culture in a country where supernatural beliefs play a big role.

But the case of Akua Denteh is far from an isolated instance in Ghana, or indeed the world at large. In many countries of the world, women are still accused of practicing witchcraft each year. They are persecuted and even killed in organized witch hunts — especially in Africa but also in Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Many women in Ghana are pushed to live in so-called witch camps because they are rejected by society Image: picture-alliance/Pacific Press/L. Wateridge

Witch hunts: a contemporary issue

Those accused of witchcraft have now found a perhaps unlikely charity ally in their fight for justice: the Catholic missionary society missio, which is part of the global Pontifical Mission Societies under the jurisdiction of the Pope, has declared August 10 as World Day against Witch Hunts, saying that in at least 36 nations around the world, people continue to be persecuted as witches.

While the Catholic Church encouraged witch hunts in Europe from the 15th to the 18th century, it is now trying to shed light into this dark practice. Part of this might be a sense of historical obligation — but the real driving force is the number of victims that witch hunts still cost today. 

Historian Wolfgang Behringer, who works as a professor specializing in the early modern age at Saarland University, firmly believes in putting the numbers in perspective. He told DW that during these three centuries, between 50,000 and 60,000 people are assumed to have been killed for so-called crimes of witchcraft — a tally that is close to being twice the population of some major German cities at the time.

But he says that in the 20th century alone, more people accused of witchcraft were brutally murdered than during the three centuries when witch hunts were practiced in Europe: “Between 1960 and 2000, about 40,000 people alleged of practicing witchcraft were murdered in Tanzania alone. While there are no laws against witchcraft as such in Tanzanian law, village tribunals often decide that certain individuals should be killed,” Behringer told DW.

The historian insists that due to the collective decision-making behind these tribunals, such murders are far from being arbitrary and isolated cases: “I’ve therefore concluded that witch hunts are not a historic problem but a burning issue that still exists in the present.”

A picture of so-called witch doctors in Sierra Leone taken roughly around the year 1900 Image:
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

A pan-African problem?

In Tanzania, the victims of these witch hunts are often people with albinism; some people believe that the body parts of these individuals can be used to extract potions against all sorts of ailments. Similar practices are known to take place in Zambia and elsewhere on the continent.

Meanwhile in Ghana, where nonagenarian Akua Denteh was bludgeoned to death last month, certain communities blamed the birth of children with disabilities on practices of witchcraft.

Screenshot – to watch the video please consult the source

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is usually the younger generations who are associated witchcraft. So-called “children of witchcraft” are usually rejected by their families and left to fend for themselves. However, their so-called crimes often have little to do with sorcery at all:

“We have learned of numerous cases of children suffering rape and then no longer being accepted by their families. Or they are born as illegitimate children out of wedlock, and are forced to live with a parent who no longer accepts them,” says Thérèse Mema Mapenzi, who works as a mission project partner in the eastern DRC city of Bukayu.

‘Children of witchcraft’ in the DRC

Mapenzi’s facility was initially intended to be a women’s shelter to harbor women who suffered rape at the hands of the militia in the eastern parts of the country, where rape is used as a weapon of war as part of the civil conflict there. But over the years, more and more children started seeking her help after they were rejected as “children of witchcraft.”

With assistance from the Catholic missionary society missio, Mapenzi is now also supporting these underage individuals in coping with their many traumas while trying to find orphanages and schools for them.

“When these children come here, they have often been beaten to a pulp, have been branded as witches or have suffered other injuries. It is painful to just even look at them. We are always shocked to see these children devoid of any protection. How can this be?” Mapenzi wonders.

Thérèse Mema Mapenzi is trying to help women and girls accused of being “children of witchcraft”
Image: missio

Seeking dialogue to end witch hunts

But there is a whole social infrastructure fueling this hatred against these young people in the DRC: Many charismatic churches blame diseases such as HIV/AIDS or female infertility on witchcraft, with illegitimate children serving as scapegoats for problems that cannot be easily solved in one of the poorest countries on earth. Other reasons cited include sudden deaths, crop failures, greed, jealousy and more.

Thérèse Mema Mapenzi says that trying to help those on the receiving end of this ire is a difficult task, especially in the absence of legal protection: “In Congolese law, witchcraft is not recognized as a violation of the law because there is no evidence you can produce. Unfortunately, the people have therefore developed their own legal practices to seek retribution and punish those whom call them witches.”

In addition to helping those escaping persecution, Mapenzi also seeks dialogue with communities to stop prejudice against those accused of witchcraft and sorcery. She wants to bring estranged families torn apart by witch hunts back together. Acting as a mediator, she talks to people, and from time to time succeeds in reuniting relatives with women and children who had been ostracized and shamed. Mapenzi says that such efforts — when they succeed — take an average of two to three years from beginning to finish.

But even with a residual risk of the victims being suspected of witchcraft again, she says her endeavors are worth the risk. She says that the fact that August 10 has been recognized as the World Day against Witch Hunts sends a signal that her work is important — and needed.

Hunting the hunters  a dangerous undertaking

For Thérèse Mema Mapenzi, the World Day against Witch Hunts marks another milestone in her uphill battle in the DRC. Jörg Nowak, spokesman for missio, agrees and hopes that there will now be growing awareness about this issue around the globe.

As part of his work, Nowak has visited several missio project partners fighting to help bring an end to witch hunts in recent years. But he wasn’t aware about the magnitude of the problem himself until 2017.

The first case he dealt with was the killing of women accused of being witches in Papua New Guinea in the 2010s — which eventually resulted in his publishing a paper on the crisis situation in the country and becoming missio’s dedicated expert on witch hunts.

But much of Nowak’s extensive research in Papua New Guinea remains largely under wraps for the time being, at least in the country itself: the evidence he accrued against some of the perpetrators there could risk the lives of missio partners working for him.

Not much has changed for centuries, apart from the localities involved when it comes to the occult belief in witchcraft, says Nowak while stressing: “There is no such thing as witchcraft. But there are accusations and stigmatization designed to demonize people; indeed designed to discredit them in order for others to gain selfish advantages.”

Maxwell Suuk and Isaac Kaledzi contributed to this article.

Screenshot – to watch the seven images please consult the source

Source: Witch hunts: A global problem in the 21st century

Cameroon: widespread violence against women and young girls including ritual killing

I rarely read news reports on ritualistic killings and murders in Cameroon. This is partly due to a bias in the methodology of my research and the selection of news reports which in particular focus strongly on anglophone news media. This however does not mean that there are no ritual murders committed in Francophone and Lusophone African countries.

I recently came across a news article on Cameroon which indicates the occurrence of ritualistic violence including murders in this West / Central African country. In particular, I read (I quote): “Every week in Cameroon, there is a report of femicide, ritual killing, rape case, or any other form of violence resulting in the death of a woman or girl.” (Unquote).

The main focus of the article being on femicide and the plight of women and young girls in Cameroon, I will refrain from elaborating on the horrible crime of femicide since this topic is not this site’s focus.

For research purposes I present the original article below, as usual accompanied by a reference to its source.
(webmaster FVDK)

Cameroon: Calls mount for comprehensive legislation to combat femicide

Published: May 16, 2023
By: Business In Cameroon (Yaoundé)

The alarming rate of femicide in Cameroon has prompted women’s associations and stakeholders to raise their voices to demand comprehensive legislation to combat the phenomenon.

“Since January 2023, we have recorded no less than 27 women and young girls who have died as a result of violence perpetrated against them by men, in most cases a spouse or a relative,” regretted the Minister of Family and Women’s Empowerment (Minproff), Marie Thérèse Abena Ondoa. She was speaking during an advocacy session held in Yaoundé on the sidelines of the International Day of Families on May 15.

Even more alarming, the figures reported by Minproff, although already very high, are only the tip of the iceberg. According to women’s rights organizations, the situation is much worse than that because in many cases deaths related to gender-based violence are not reported as such. Hence the urgent need for a legal framework to stop the mass killings of women and girls because of their gender.

“A specific law against violence against women is a must in Cameroon. The head of State made that promise to us in 1997. And I now realize he knew such a law is crucial. We’ve always thought our current legal law was enough. Many things have indeed been done, many mechanisms have been put in place but that is not enough. Perpetrators must be deterred, especially when they are intimate partners or family members,” said the national president of the Association to Fight Violence Against Women, Élise Pierrette Mpoung Meno.

Grim picture

Many of Cameroon’s development partners also support this initiative. They call for the strengthening of the legal framework to put a definitive end to GBV. The UN Women’s resident representative in Cameroon, Marie Pierre Raky Chaupin, said femicides “are the most brutal and extreme manifestation of a continuum of violence against women and girls”.

“Cameron lacks a legal framework against GBV, but there are many provisions that punish different forms of gender-based violence. We may need to examine the existing strong legal framework in Cameroon and better coordinate it with comprehensive legislation. This is an advocacy that UNFPA has started,” says Noemie Dalmonte, Deputy Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This UN agency supports the government in its efforts to combat GBV through prevention and risk reduction actions and activities.

Every week in Cameroon, there is a report of femicide, ritual killing, rape case, or any other form of violence resulting in the death of a woman or girl. “The situation is gruesome, given the recent news,” acknowledges Minproff, who also wishes to see specific legislation that will “severely punish” GBV perpetrators.

Pending the adoption of the law, Marie Thérèse Abena Ondoa said new strategies will be swiftly put in place. The success of this approach requires the involvement of everyone, including communities, she said.

Source: Cameroon: Calls mount for Comprehensive Legislation to combat femicide

Political map of Cameroon

Liberia: “We’ll Continue the Sande Bush Practice of Our Ancestors” – Zoes in Margibi Vow

The following article contains two interesting aspects to which I would like to draw the readers’ attention.

First, I was struck by the public declaration of Chief Zoe, Ma Wrote Musa, to continue certain traditional practices of the ancestors, including the practicing of FGM, female genital mutilation. My interpretation of these remarks is that traditional values and behavior are still undisputed in Liberia, at least at the highest level.

Secondly, almost causal the Chief Zoe mentions ritual killings. Shocking, it’s a public acknowledgement that these age-old practices still occur in this West African country. I found it shocking – which it is not really, in the sense that everyone in Liberia knows of the existence of these crimes, based on greed, superstition and the disrespect of the rule of law and of the human rights of the victims – including the government. (FVDK)

Liberia: “We’ll Continue the Sande Bush Practice of Our Ancestors” – Zoes in Margibi Vow

“We will continue the Sande Bush practice of our ancestors in Liberia. We inherited this practice, and in no way, we are willing to end it. And, if the government and others want to force us, we will traditionally resist. If they want us to leave our ancestors’ practice, let them be equally prepared to let go other practices such as same-sex, the UBF, the Free Masons and ritualistic killings, etc,” said Chief Zoe, Ma Wroto Musa.

Published: August 30, 2022
By: Mae Azango – Front Page Africa

MONROVIA – Hundreds of Liberian school-aged girls and young women stand the risks of being initiated into the Sande Society, also known as the bush school, because, traditional leaders of Margibi County pledged to continue their ancestors’ traditional heritage. 

Chief Zoe, Ma Wroto Musa, Chief Samuel Kollie and other traditional leaders in Weala Margibi County vowed to continue Sande activities admit the three-year suspension on the practice.

“We will continue the Sande Bush practice of our ancestors in Liberia. We inherited this practice, and in no way, we are willing to end it. And, if the government and others want to force us, we will traditionally resist. If they want us to leave our ancestors’ practice, let them be equally prepared to let go other practices such as same-sex, the UBF, the Free Masons and ritualistic killings, etc,” said Chief Zoe, Ma Wroto Musa. 

Speaking in Weala Margibi County, during a recent town hall in meeting, organized by HeForShe Crusaders Liberia, the West Point Women for Health and Development Organization and Community Healthcare Initiative, the zoes, along with over 20 traditional leaders, said even though they are knowledgeable of the three years suspension on FGM activity in Liberia, but they will continue until same-sex and UBF is abolished as well. 

During the ongoing dialogue, in affirmation of their support, all the invited traditional participants raised their hands in support of FGM continuation in Liberia. 

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is the umbrella entity responsible for regulations of all traditional affairs, is unaware of the violation by many traditional leaders. When contacted regarding the wave of FGM activities going on after the three-year ban placed on the practice, Assistant Minister for Culture and Customs, Joseph B. Jangar, said he is surprised and shock at the same time such activities but promised to follow up with superintendents of the various counties that are said to be violating the three-year moratorium. 

“The zoes and traditional leaders are all aware of the three-year suspension and not one of those zoes operating the bush schools will be able to show you any certificate from the Ministry of Internal Affairs because we are aware of the ban,” said Minister Jangar. 

It can be recalled that in late February 2022, Chief Zanzan Karwor, Chairman of the National Traditional Council of Liberia, announced a three-year suspension of the practice of female genital mutilation in Liberia. The three-year ban which started with immediate effect came amidst campaigns by human rights groups for a total ban on the practice. But it seems since the declaration was made, many traditional leaders are openly violating the ban. 

“FGM/C is not only a human rights violation, but undermines the peace and security of each and every female. Access to bodily autonomy is a right to every woman, end FGM and its not cultural but harmful suppression,” Saye Tamba F. Johnson, National HeForShe Crusaders Liberia. Johnson said Margibi County is the second county that has challenged the three-year suspension of FGM. The first was Grand Cape Mount in February of 2022. However, Lofa, Gborpolu, Grand Bassa, Bong, Montesrrado and Rivercess Counties are reportedly still carrying out the act, too. 

According to this newspaper’s Nimba County Correspondent, two zoes in that county paid dearly for disobedience to the three-year ban when they were arrested in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, for forcing over 8000 school-going aged girls into the Sande Bush. The girls, who had gone to prepare for 2022/2023 school year, were all captured and forced into the Bush School by the two traditional leaders. And the report added that the practices are presently taking place in the 19 administrative districts in Nimba County.

HeForShe Crusaders Liberia, Lofa County Coordinator Boakai Yamah reported on the increase of FGM activities and listed towns and villages that are carrying out the practice during the three-year suspension. 

“I reported earlier from Lofa County, on the increase in the numbers of Sande Bushes in operation across the county. Here are the names and locations where Sande Bush activities are ongoing.

1. Gbordu Town, Kpalakollie Clan, Tangia Administrative District, Foya 

2. Lawalazu Town, Lower Workor Clan, Voinjama District 

3. Zawoadamai Town, Lower Workor Clan, Voinjama District 

4. Borgondu Town, Quardu Gboni District 

5. Korlelar Town, Quardu Gboni District 

6. Kamolahun Town, Ngolahun Clan, Lukambeh District 

7. Manena Town, Hembeh Clan, Lukambeh District 

8. Lehuma Town, Wanwoma Clan, Wanhassa District. 

However, for Lehunma Town all preparations have been put in place to take the children,” concluded Coordinator Yamah. Back to the Weala Meeting in Margibi, following the intense awareness on the importance of maintaining all positive attributes of the Sande Bush, making away with the circumcision aspect, the leaders and supporters disagreed. “Our leaders at the national level are seeking money and forgetting the values of our heritage. They are seeking their own personal interest and not us. They don’t consult us on issues; we only hear about them, which is a disservice to us. Hence, there is a need for you all to keep engaging us and let us know who are directly involved with the bush and speak out on what is possible,” said Chief Samuel Kollie.

Source:
Liberia: “We’ll Continue the Sande Bush Practice of Our Ancestors” – Zoes in Margibi Vow

Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission advocates strong mechanisms to fight harmful practices against children – AU Day of the Child marked in Ghana

Last Thursday, June 16, was the Day of the African Child, created by the organization of African Unity in 1991, and triggered by sad events in South Africa. The Day of the African Child is celebrated on the African continent and around the world.

In Nigeria, Africa’s largest country in terms of population and number of childen, where an estimated 75 million children live, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) paid attention to the event. Nigeria is no exception on the African continent where harmful practices threaten and affect the lives of millions of innocent and defenseless children. Among these practices we note child marriage, child trafficking, rape, female genital mutilation, infanticide and other forms of violence against children, some of whom are accused of being witches, some of whom are being targeted for ritualistic purposes, notably children with albinism.

Also in Ghana, the Volta Region office of the Department of Children under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), in collaboration with Plan International, Ghana, celebrated this year’s African Union Day of the African Child.

Mr Seth Kwasi Agbi, the District Chief Executive for South Tongu, in a keynote address, condemned all harmful acts such as child trafficking, child labour, and ritualistic murders which also victimize children.
(webmaster FVDK)

NHRC advocates strong mechanisms to fight harmful practices against children

Published: June 17, 2022
By: Michael Olugbode, This Day – Nigeria

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has reiterated the need to devise and strengthen national accountability mechanisms that will deter harmful practices against children, so as to enable them to attain all-around development in life.

The Executive Secretary of the commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu, stated this in his welcome remarks at the commemoration of the 2022 Day of the African Child (DAC).

He noted that the celebration was an opportunity to take stock of what has been done with regards to the adoption of policies and practices targeted at eliminating harmful practices affecting children in Nigeria.

Ojukwu, who was represented at the event by the Director of Monitoring Department, Mr. Benedict Agu, said the 2022 theme of the celebration: ‘Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practice since 2013’,  is appropriate as it seeks to address the peculiar human rights challenges affecting children.

He noted that these challenges, are negative harmful practices such as early/forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child trafficking among others.

He stated that against this background, the commission’s role in advancing the campaign to end harmful practices affecting children is hinged on its mandate to promote, protect and enforce the rights of all persons in Nigeria.

According to him, “Notably, the commission was a critical partner in the advocacy for the passage of the Child’s Rights Act 2003, and has been involved in continued advocacy for its adoption into Child Rights Laws of about 26 states of the federation.

“It is also a member of the State Child Rights Implementation Committee of several states in Nigeria and has continued to advocate for the mainstreaming of children’s rights in relevant policies of the government.”

Ojukwu stated that the commission has further prioritised Child Rights in its work through the creation of the Department of Women and Children, and the thematic team on the Rights of the Child, which have enabled it to take action against pervasive child rights abuses such as child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV), infanticide, child trafficking among others.

In her key message, a member of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Ms. Aver She said the commemoration of DAC is an opportunity to sensitise duty bearers on the importance of engaging children in their own issues and promoting participation as well as inclusion in line with the principles of child participation.

Gavar, who is also the director of Human Rights Education and Promotion in the commission, said the focus of the DAC 2022 is also to respond to the high prevalence of harmful practices affecting children in different parts of Africa, including rape, FGM, child marriage, infanticide among others.

She urged the government to strengthen its child protection system through increased budgetary lines across sectors dealing with child rights implementation and through the establishment of one-step centres for integrated response to child survivors of rape, child marriage, FGM and all forms of violence against children.

In her remarks, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, disclosed that the ministry has made progress in spearheading a range of policy documents to address harmful cultural practices, like the implementation of the Child’s Rights Act (CRA) 2003, National Guidelines on Establishment of Child Care Institutions, and National Strategy on Elimination of Child Marriage.

Source: NHRC Advocates Strong Mechanisms to Fight Harmful Practices against Children

AU Day of the African child marked in South Tongu, Volta Region, Ghana.

Mr Israel Akrobortu, the Volta Regional Director of the Department of Children,

Published: June 17, 2022
By: News Ghana, Ghana News Agency – GNA

The Volta Region office of the Department of Children under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP), in collaboration with Plan International, Ghana, have celebrated this year’s African Union Day of the African Child with a call to end harmful practices affecting children. 

In an address, Mr Israel Akrobortu, the Volta Regional Director of the Department of Children, said some traditional customs and practices conflicted with children’s rights and were harmful to their development. 

“Child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation are two of the most discriminatory harmful cultural practices that have been committed regularly over long periods that some communities and societies have come to accept,” he said. 

Mr Akrobotu called on duty bearers to take urgent steps to stop such negative practices, which were affecting children, especially female genital cutting, to protect the vulnerable, especially girls from all unnecessary and dangerous practices.

Mr Seth Kwasi Agbi, the District Chief Executive for South Tongu, in a keynote address, said it was important to focus on the vital efforts of communities and child rights activists working on policies and practices to eliminate “these harmful practices affecting children on the continent.” 

He explained that the acts, such as child trafficking, child labour, ritual murder, and defilement, if not curbed and eventually eliminated, would be detrimental to the growth and development of the continent. 

Mr Alfred Dzikunoo, Programmes Coordinator, and a representative from Plan International, Ghana, said Plan Ghana had made many contributions to end the canker against the Ghanaian Child. 

The interventions include empowering girls with life skills, knowledge and networks to become empowered agents of change in their own lives, engagement of duty-bearers such as GHS, DOVVSU, and DSW to improve education on child marriage FGM, and child labour.

Torgbi Atsugah Sogah Il, a Divisional chief from Fieve Traditional Area, implored participating students to be good ambassadors and serve as role models for other children in their communities as well as cultivate the habit of championing the right to education. 

The 2022 celebration was on the theme: “Eliminating Harmful Practices Affecting Children: Progress on Policy and Practices since 2013.” 

Comboni Senior High Technical School garnered 18 points against 15 by Sogakope Senior High School (SOGASCO) to win the debate on the topic: “Has the policies on harmful socio-cultural practices affecting children since 2013 curbed the menace,?” 

The “Day of the African Child” dates back to 1991 when the African Union (AU) initiated a remembrance of the children who lost their lives in a peaceful protest in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. 

The event attracted school children, officials from the South Tongu District Education Directorate, teachers, local government staff, and traditional rulers within the South Tongu District.

Source: AU Day of the African child marked in South Tongu

Districts in the Volta Region, Ghana.


Nigeria: wife of the Bayelsa State governor, Dr Gloria Diri, leads campaign against ritual killings

Let me first of all state here that Bayelsa State isn’t an exception in Nigeria when it comes to ritualistic murders. My impression is that these heinous crimes occur in every state of Nigeria. But it is, however, exceptional, that high placed people raise their voices against such practices. 

In the past I have posted several articles on ritualistic activities including murder in the southern state of Bayelsa, see eg. my May 11, 2021 posting ‘The scourge of ritual killings in Nigeria‘ which included ‘money rituals’ in Bayelsa; furthermore, ‘Ritualist’ lynched in Bayelsa state‘ (May 24, 2019) and ‘Confession of Yahoo Plus Boys: “Ritual does not give us money‘ (November 11, 2019).

The year 2022 started promising in Bayelsa State when the wife of the Bayelsa State governor, Dr Gloria Diri, led a coalition of civil society organization to campaign against ritual killings and the harvesting (as it is called locally) and trafficking of human organs in some parts of the state. Moreover, she called on state security agencies to step up the protection of innocent children. The campaign started with the slogan “No To Ritual Killings.”

My congratulations to Dr Diri for this initiative and I wish her and her fellow Nigerians success in their endeavors to end ritualistic killings, at least in Bayelsa State! 
(FVDK)

Diri’s Wife Leads Campaign Against Ritual Killings, Others

Published: January 21, 2022
By: Osa Okhomina – Leadership, Nigeria

Wife of the Bayelsa State governor, Dr Gloria Diri, has led a coalition of civil society and girl-child welfare advocacy groups to campaign against ritual killings and harvest of human organs in some parts of the state.

She called on security agencies to step up the protection of the girl-child in the state. The campaign started as early as 7am with an estimated 12-kilometre road walk to publicly declare “No To Ritual Killings.”

The various groups and stakeholders under the umbrella of the State Gender Response Initiative Team (GRIT) noted that though two cases of attempted ritual killings have so far been detected in the state, the state would no longer condone the mysterious killing of young girls.

Among the groups which participated in the 12 kilometer walk against ritual killings are the coordinator, Committee for Democracy and Environmental Dividends ( CODED ), Mr Keme Opia ,the chairman Collins Cocodia Foundation  and special adviser , political to the state governor, High Chief  Collins Cocodia, wife of the chairman of the State Traditional Rulers Council, HRM,  Mrs Josephine Diette-Spiff, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA),  Women Wing of Christian Association of Nigeria, the chairman of the state chapter of the NUJ, Comrade Samuel Numonengi, Gloria Diri Foundation, Do foundation, Child Protection Network, Ethanrose Foundation, National Council of Women Society, Medical Women Association of Nigeria ( MWAN), Do Foundation international, Starrz Safety initiative and others.

The women groups were armed with placards with inscription such as “save the girl child from ritual killings”,  “Together we CAN”, “Join GRIT to stop senseless killings”, “Bayelsa is peaceful not for harvesting human parts”, and “ Our girls ,our pride.”

Mrs Diri, who expressed concern over the strange cases recorded and the alleged participation of young boys in aborted cases in the state, said the land of Bayelsa rejects such dastardly act and that by the peace walk, the stakeholders in the state reject such acts.

She also called on the mothers and the men to protect the girl child against such evil acts, “For everyone that enters the state, the gods of the lands and the security agents are watching. Let us watch and protect one another against ritual killing. For those caught in the act, we will ensure that the law takes its course. We are also now against out-of-court settlements and we want the law to punish the perpetrators.  Ritual killing is a distraction because if a child goes missing, government will abandon what they are doing and go in search of the missing child.”

Source: Diri’s Wife Leads Campaign Against Ritual Killings, OthersDiri’s Wife Leads Campaign Against Ritual Killings, Others

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Bayelsa First lady leads public campaign against ritual killers, ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ boys

Published: January 20, 2022
By: Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa – The Sun, Nigeria

Disturbed by the recent cases of attempted ritual killings in Bayelsa State, the wife of Bayelsa governor, Dr Gloria Diri on Thursday led other groups on a public campaign against ritual killing and activities of Yahoo-yahoo boys in the state.

A Niger Delta University (NDU)student, Deborah Emafidion and a 13-year-old girl (name withheld) were recently rescued from suspected ritualists in the state.

The public campaign put together by the Gender Response Initiative Team (GRIT) and Committee for Democracy and Environmental Dividends (CODED) and other groups armed with placards with inscription such as ‘Save Our Children from Ritualists’ ‘No to Ritual Killings,’ Join GRIT to stop senseless killings’, ‘Bayelsa is peaceful not for harvesting human parts”, commenced with a 12 kilometre walk and distribution of flyers from Ekeki Park, Azikoro road to the Peace Park, opposite the Bayelsa State Government House.

Dr Diri, who incidentally is the initiator of GRIT, expressed concern over the strange cases recorded and the involvement of teenagers in attempted ritual killings in the state.

“The land of Bayelsa rejects such a dastardly act and by this peace walk, the stakeholders in the state reject such acts. The youths and women of Bayelsa reject it. I urge everyone to be their brothers’ keeper. If they try it in other states, Bayelsa will not condone it any longer. For everyone that enters the state, the gods of the lands and the security agents are watching. Let us watch and protect one another against ritual killing. For those caught in the act, we will ensure that the law takes its course. We are also now against out-of-court settlements and we want the law to punish the perpetrators,” she said.

The Chairperson of GRIT, Dise Ogbise, pointed out that with the peace walk against ritual killings; Governor Douye Diri led prosperity Government has once again made history by bringing together key actors in its fight against ritual killings and cultism in the state.

“The state Government has once again reiterated its resolve to end all forms of violence in the state as perpetrators of ritual killing and cultic groups will be prosecuted,” she said.

hairman of the Collins Cocodia Foundation and Special Adviser, Political to Bayelsa Governor, Chief Collins Cocodia, also expressed concern over the cases of ritual killings and called for a concerted effort to nip it in the bud.

Queen of Twon Brass Kingdom and Chairperson, Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Wives Association, Bayelsa, Queen Josephine Diette-Spiff said the case of Deborah underscored the danger facing girls and women in the state.

While commending GRIT and CODED for putting the campaign together, she called on security agencies to step up operations to be able to track perpetrators of all forms of violence.

Other groups that participated in the solidarity walk include International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA), Gloria Diri Foundation, Collins Cocodia Foundation, Do foundation among others.

Source: Bayelsa First lady leads public campaign against ritual killers, ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ boys

Nigeria, Adamawa State – Rev. Dr Kehinde Babarinde: ‘The church must speak out against the ritual killing of women’

Women and girls who end up ‘Missing and Murdered’ were the focus of two international webinars organized in the context of 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF),in partnership with the World Council of Churches (WCC), ACT Alliance and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) tried to find an answer to the question what the churches can do to prevent the rising crime of femicide.

Among those speaking about the problem in Nigeria were Rev. Emmanuel Gabriel, Nigeria’s national coordinator of the LWF’s Symbols of Hope project, and Rev. Dr Kehinde Babarinde, of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN) and adjunct lecturer at West Africa Theological Seminary.

Rev Babarinde asked attention for the issue of ritual killings of women whose body parts are believed to possess mystical powers and hence they are sacrificed by unscrupulous murderers for the well-being of unknown businessmen, politicians, and others. He appealed to the church to speak out against this and other abuses. 

Ritualistic murders are rife in Nigeria and Adamawa State is no exception. See my posts ‘Nigeria: Ritual killings – over 20 children missing in Adamawa State‘, a 2018 article, and ‘Ritual killers on rampage in Adamawa State‘, a 2014 article, as well as my post dated May 11, of this year, ‘The scourge of ritual killings in Nigeria‘.
(webmaster FVDK)

Published: December 7, 2021
By: The Lutheran World federation, Geneva, Switzerland, 

Webinars hear how faith-based organizations must step up action to change cultures and stop gender-based violence

(LWI) – The dramatic plight of women and girls who end up ‘Missing and Murdered’ was under the spotlight during two webinars organized in the context of the 16 Days of activism to end gender-based violence. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) partnered with the World Council of Churches (WCC), ACT Alliance and the Young Women’s Christian Association(YWCA) to ask what the churches can do to prevent the rising crime of femicide.

The two-part event focused on different areas of the world, presenting first-hand testimony from panelists working with women and girls who have been trafficked, abused or forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives. Among those speaking about the problem in Indonesia on 25 November was Faye Simanjuntek, a young Lutheran activist who set up her own safe house called Rumah Faye for sexually abused children. Noting that the center cares for trafficked victims as young as six, she spoke of the work to empower survivors through reproductive health education, as well as creative skills training including art and cooking workshops.  

Simanjuntek also addressed the underlying cultural problems that allow violence against women and girls to thrive in her country, citing recent comments from a police chief who said wives should be confined to the “well (fetching water), the kitchen and the sheets.” Though Indonesia is a vast and diverse country, she said, women are largely viewed as “second-class participants” in family and public affairs.

Combating patriarchal cultures

Rev. Emmanuel Gabriel, Nigeria’s national coordinator of the LWF’s Symbols of Hope project, spoke about the work to support and reintegrate survivors of trafficking through psycho-social counselling and livelihoods activities. Women are the most vulnerable to exploitation in his country, he noted, often because of gender-based violence in their communities which motivates them to migrate and fall victim to the traffickers. Churches must be part of the solution, he said, raising awareness of the dangers and advocating for a bible-based approach to gender equality.

Another Nigerian panelist, Rev. Dr Kehinde Babarinde, adjunct lecturer at West Africa Theological Seminary, addressed the issue of ritual killings of women whose body parts are believed to possess mystical powers to bring prosperity to others. He said the church must speak out against this and other abuses such as widow inheritance, where women can be forced to marry another family member following the death of their husbands. Many women prefer to commit suicide, he noted, stressing that this must be recognized as a form of femicide too.

Speaking about the widespread violence and killings of women in the Pacific region, Stephanie Dunn of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center said churches have at times reinforced the problems of a patriarchal culture which create barriers to prevent women from coming forward to denounce the perpetrators of violence. While global statistics show one in every three women has suffered from intimate partner sexual violence, in Fiji and the Pacific, she said, that figure rises to two out of every three women experience gender-based violence.

Building a ‘Gender-competent Church’ 

South African Catholic theologian Nontando Hadebe, international coordinator of the faith-based gender justice network Side by Side, spoke of the interconnected legacies of patriarchy, colonialism and apartheid in her country. Women, she said, are still “socialized to be submissive” and the church must do more to highlight positive role models of women in the bible.

Frantseska Altezini, a lawyer working with the YWCA in Greece, spoke of the way that the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent economic crisis have brought the underlying problems that women face into the spotlight. She and other participants stressed the need to teach children gender justice in schools, as well as developing curricula for theological institutions in order to “build a gender-competent church.”

A second webinar on 2 December highlighted the scale of this ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence in Latin America, North America and the Caribbean. Valéria Vilhena, a researcher with Mulheres EIG (Women Evangelicals for Gender Equality) highlighted the work that organization has been doing since 2015 to support survivors and their families. Her country, Brazil, ranks fifth in the world for the highest levels of femicide after El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala and Russia, she said.

Protecting the most vulnerable

Dr Imani Ama, a research fellow at the University of the West Indies, spoke of the challenges of “indifference and impunity” for perpetrators in Jamaica where the “subordination of women is normative.” Easy access to guns and a “de-sensitization to the value of life” have helped to rank Jamaica “among the murder capitals of the world,” she said. Demilitarization and de-colonialization are necessary, alongside “theologies to dismantle patriarchy,’” she added.

Ebony Rempel, chief executive officer of the YWCA in Banff, Canada, spoke of the increased threats facing indigenous women and girls who are seven times more likely to be victims of femicide. Her organization runs an emergency shelter, as well as longer terms support and affordable housing for survivors of domestic violence. Their crisis helpline has seen a 71% increase in calls during the pandemic, she said, with trans women also running higher risks of femicide.

In conclusion, First Nations Cree artist Amanda Wallin shared her experience of supporting two daughters who were on the Missing Persons’ list in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the province with the highest femicide rate in Canada. She spoke of the pain of witnessing her daughters in abusive relationships, saying there is a need for greater legislative efforts to protect women from violence and femicide, especially among the indigenous communities.

LWF/P. Hitchen

Source: 16 Days: ‘Missing and Murdered’ victims of femicide

South Africa: ‘Enough with muti killings’

Last week, the author of the article ‘Enough with muti killings‘ referred to above, Eric Naki, who is the Political Editor of The Citizen, a South African online newspaper, wrote a feature article reflecting his personal concern over the ritual killing of women and children for muti purposes in the Limpopo area of the country. His article, published with the shocking heading ‘Muti murders: ‘Genitals only work if cut from live victims’, was presented as ‘Shocking details of ‘muti’ murders‘ on May 21.

Naki’s feature article did not lead to any action of the authorities. For this reason he wrote a follow-up to his article, ‘Enough with muti killings‘.

Because of its message and Naki’s cry to stop the carnage based on superstition I consider it extremely important to promote a distribution as wide as possible of his article. All forces should be joined to help ending muti killings.

I cannot present the entire article here because only subscribers have access to it, but I am including a reference to it, hoping that it may encourage readers to take the necessary steps to gain acces to the article.  

Let the muti murders stop! (webmaster FVDK)

Enough with muti killings

Simdlangentsha Magistrate’s Offices which was torched by community members after Lungisani Ntuli’s body was found on 10 July 2014 in Pongola. Community members set the church alight after the four-year-old’s mutilated body was found there. Ntuli went missing and his mutilated body was discovered in a room in the church. Picture: Gallo Images

Published: May 27, 2021
By: The Citizen, South Africa – Eric Naki

The ritual killing of women and children in Limpopo needs a joint effort by police, citizens, government, traditional leaders and neighbouring SADC nations.

Source: Enough with muti killings

Limpopo Municipalities

Legal expert, Zimbabwe: ‘Time to look beyond ritual murderers’

The following reflection is important. It shows that there are good-hearted and highly educated Zimbabweans who convincingly argue that the recent ritual murders necessitate an adjustment of the country’s laws. This reaction is partly motivated by the ritualistic killing of Tapiwa Makore (7) of Murehwa and the two Benza cousins Delan (7) and Melissa (7) of central Mutasa (see my previous postings).

The author of the article presented below also focuses on a person who is often behind these ritual killings: the songoma or faith healer. Too often, the songoma is left out of the investigations following the ritual murder and not implicated in the trial of the actual killer(s) whereas in fact the songoma can be considered an important driving force behind the heinous crime which is committed during the murderous traditional ritual.

Let’s monitor how swiftly Zimbabwe’s rulers including lawmakers and the judiciary act!
I will keep you informed (webmaster FVDK).

Time to look beyond ritual murderers

Published: April 30, 2021
By: Zimbabwe Independent –  Sharon Hofisi  

I ONCE represented people charged with murder in court. That was where I had my first real encounter with the subject of intentional or negligent killing. It was not a positive experience. Nevertheless, I got some acquittals. I remember the cases well. They took my inexperienced product of law school and taught me to understand the criminal laws and procedures of this country with deep preparation. So I took the cases on a pro deo basis. Put simply, this means acting for God. But with the increasing ritual killings, a lack of deliberate offences on ritual killings and honour crimes is a serious lacuna in our criminal justice system.

The purpose of criminal laws should mirror the nature of the society itself. Societies that are governed through laws are called to heal the divisions caused by violators of the law. When a society seems to be in danger of endless commissions of heinous crimes, focusing too much on investigation machinery and work and neglecting criminal law reform may pose further deep seated challenges. What often happens, however, is that even if the laws are reformed, we need to guard against reactionary responses to endemic problems. If the purpose of criminal law reform is to curb impunity in all forms of killings and deal decisively with utter disregard of the sanctity of human life, then a law can be a healthy first step in protecting the rights of vulnerable sections of society such as women, children, persons with albinism and other disabilities.

Even a criminal law reform committee will be horrified to learn that ritual motivators are not part of the suspects to be arrested. We are encouraged by the fact that our criminal laws allow for the arrest and prosecution of accomplices. But psyched people are usually afraid of the unknown. The psyched ritual killers strike fast, simultaneously attacking unsuspecting children or persons with disabilities.

The details that usually emerge after the gruesome killings are too numerous and disturbing. We definitely cannot bring our conscience to understand the difference between the actual killer and the one who motivates the killer to do so. The killer believes it is going to be an “all-for-purple-life” killing. Later, he is taught that the act was natural after all when he gets caught. It was his darkest ritual psyched moments that brought the longest, bloodiest, most heinous crimes to carry out. It costs innocent lives and no financial rewards as promised. And most families of the killers are left destitute. The breadwinner is locked up and the family is drawn into incessant wars of appeasing vengeful spirits as contemplated in our traditional faiths.

The hideous scars born by the families of the victims will last a very long time. But these ritual killing motivators are cunning and they will continue to hoodwink many people into psyched killings. They may never get their comeuppance. Certainly the time has come to act decisively on criminal law reform on ritual murder and honour crimes in Zimbabwe. Legislation, the passing of Acts in Parliament, is the most important of Parliament’s many tasks. I believe many stakeholders can agree on the explanatory memorandum for a Ritual Murders and Honour Crimes Bill. The long title of that Bill can deal with issues relating to the ritual murders and honour crimes and other purposes connected with these issues. The enacting formula can be decided by the nature of offences being committed usually against vulnerable sections of societies such as children, elderly women, persons with disabilities and so forth.

Perhaps the major point to grasp about ritual killings is that a psychic person, or even a bogus part of a psychic person, promises someone a lavish lifestyle once a heinous crime is committed. It could be the killing of a sibling, distant relative or some stranger. Exactly what is meant by “ritual” is not necessarily obvious since the killing of the person is controlled by the killer who uses the elaborate descriptions from the psychic leader. A small change in the psychic instructions can make a huge difference – so we hear from failed ritual killing missions. Each small step is catalysed and crystallised by the need for hot porridge riches. Many of these random killings may do the killer no harm if he observes the instructions (muko). Sometimes the killer will destroy the fighting powers of the deceased through some further rituals, kutsipika ngozi. This means that in any event, the killer is fully aware that they intentionally committed murder.

Reading stories about gruesome murders of young children by people who were promised material or financial gains tests our resolve as a polity of relationships between crime and fighting crime. We are given a set of criminal instances and must choose another set of responses that is related in the same way.

Many reforms of criminal laws are possible. Reading the modus operandi of criminals test our ability to understand and interpret the criminal laws we can promulgate in response. This is probably the most important ability we need as a society at the moment.

In analysis of the killings of children in our media reportages, we are presented with situations detailing criminal events and then a result of something that is steered by someone who is believed to possess some supernatural or magical powers to make people rich, overnight.

Our task is to decide in the legal and non-legal fraternity whether certain statements or motivations to commit crimes provide adequate explanations of how we can curb violent crimes. Each new crime provides us with a new format for criminal law reform.

For Zimbabwe and the disturbing killings, it’s now much more than just a usual ritual murder, headlines and efficient state response. We need to move beyond crime scene visits and the arrest of suspects. Ritual murders are now shaping an entire generation of criminal inquiry. It’s now the time to transform the changing and disturbing criminal scenes of the last ten or so years into a clear and widely-reformed criminal justice system in Zimbabwe. The motivating variable in this urgent need for criminal justice reform is steeped in legal realism. Law may be stable, but it cannot stand still if I may employ Roscoe Pound’s philosophy.

Are these ritual crimes something reflective of honour crimes, where relatives and close acquaintances are the pawns in the much bigger chess game? Barely when the Makore killing had left our minds we hear of the gruesome murder of two children. Zimbabwe has witnessed the targeted ritual killings which encourage criminal responsibility to be broadened in scope. Each killing achieves a disturbing measure of brutality and mental intention to kill. The recurring pattern of failed rituals that are broken by arrest of the suspects and eventual incarceration of such suspects all have at most one thing in common: each killing in its own way forces the killer and the ritual motivator to forge an unholy alliance; share the same mental and actual intention to kill, only from the opposite perspective.

The actual killer is psyched to kill. The ritual motivator psyches the ultimate killer. Each fails to see that confronted with effective investigation machinery the prospective ritual will inevitably not succeed. Equally gruesomely, each fails to see that the criminal path between hatching a heinous act of killing and frenzied killing act is not only false but leads towards a catastrophic breakdown of the family fabric.

The falsity of the ritual shows that one or two or more or many suspects are arrested. The ritual motivator, the instigator of the death of the innocent young souls remains. He or she continues hoodwinking many people into killing many young children.

All in the name of enhancing business or getting filthy money! Here too, there is more criminality in the sangoma or faith healer than criminal intention in the actual killer. The sangoma or ritual motivator does not simply aim to alleviate poverty through the loss of innocent blood of a family member, gruesome murder, psyched actions, and so forth. Efforts to control and encourage killing, no matter how important or necessary, are only one aspect of “intentional killing”. The sanctity of human life, and human life itself, as we know from our Constitution and even various types of our faiths, depend on more than the alleviation of poverty and the satisfaction of material needs. The reason for which we were created is to enjoy life and the maker of it forever.

Hofisi is a transformative transitional justice practitioner, normative influencer and disruptive thinker.

Source: Time to look beyond ritual murderers

“Johnny’s Town Murder Trial: Finally, Justice Is Done!” – Liberia

Last week, one of Liberia’s leading newspapers, the Daily Observer, published an enthusiastic article, lauding the judiciary system in Liberia, following the jury’s conclusion that 7 defendants in the Sinoe murder case (‘the Johnny Town Murder Trial’) were found guilty of murder, gang rape, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation. The article focuses on harmful traditional practices in Liberia, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), forcible initiation into secret societies, trial by ordeal (particularly the use of sassywood), accusations of witchcraft, and ritualistic killings. The authors conclude that the verdict rendered in the Johnny’s Town Case is a landmark example. 

The article provides a useful summary of the case, its background and significance, and is therefore highly recommended. I fully agree with the main conclusion: 
“This landmark verdict has brought great relief to survivors and their families and set the right precedence that would possibly deter would-be perpetrators of harmful traditional practices in Liberia.”
(webmaster FVDK).

Published: September 3, 2019
By: National Institute for Public Opinion (NIPO) and Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI) – published by the Daily Observer 

The Case 

Late last year, three young Liberian women in Johnny Town, Kpayan District, Sinoe County, were accused by a group of community dwellers of kidnapping a three-month-old child for witchcraft rituals. Angeline Saydee, Florence Tarkleh and Willete Nyewallah were subjected to trial by ordeal and abused, tortured and gang raped. One of the women, Willete, was killed. Another was hospitalized and later discharged. Stories surrounding the third woman, who happens to be the mother of the missing child, are quite conflicting.

It is said that Willete, who was killed in this incident, was few months pregnant prior to her unfortunate death. All the accused women fervently denied involvement in witchcraft and in the disappearance of the child. These women experienced unimaginable abuse. They were stripped naked before public glare and paraded from one corner of the town to another; thereafter, they were taken into the bush and subjected to trial by ordeal and to other violent crimes. Before these young women were abducted, tortured and one killed, they were living peaceful lives with their families and loved ones.

The young men accused of these crimes allegedly committed these inhumane acts under the orders of some traditional leaders, including a female traditionalist who allegedly subjected the women to trial by ordeal.

Harmful Traditional Practices in Liberia 

Trial by ordeal is a harmful traditional practice in which suspects are subjected to torture and other forms of inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. The practice is usually done in extremely brutal manner and is intended to have suspects forcefully (and likely falsely) confessing guilt. The pain that comes with trial by ordeal is often raw and severe and can force people to confess guilt even if they were not the actual doers of the act for which ,they were accused. This practice has been outlawed by the Government of Liberia but it still persists.

An UNMIL and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights assessment of Harmful Traditional Practices in Liberia found that some traditional and cultural practices common to many Liberian ethnic communities have a significantly negative impact on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights. These include FGM, forcible initiation into secret societies, trial by ordeal (particularly the use of sassywood), accusations of witchcraft, and ritualistic killings. The assessment found that “these practices have particularly affected certain groups such as women, children, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, as well as the poorest Liberians” ( UNMIL and OHCHR 2015-An Assessment of Human Rights Issues Emanating from Traditional Practices in Liberia p.2).

This high prevalence is fundamentally why we believe that all must be done to step up the fight against harmful traditional practices. A critical starting point was ensuring the rule of law with particular focus on increasing access to justice for women and girls. We submit here that the verdict rendered in the Johnny’s Town Case is a landmark example!

Civil Society Supports the Survivors 

Immediately after these vicious crimes committed against Angeline Saydee, Florence Tarkleh and Willete Nyewallah came to light, the National Institute for Public Opinion (NIPO) coordinated county-level advocacy actions with the active involvement of the Sinoe County Women Platform and the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI). Soon after, the case captured national and international attention. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection got involved, as did some concerned Liberian women and women’s organizations.

At national level, advocacy actions were coordinated by the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) in close collaboration with NIPO and FCI. As part of these actions, the coalition presented its position statement to the National Legislature, calling on the Government of Liberia to provide reparation for survivors, relocate and resettle survivors and transfer the case to neutral location to avoid “local interference” or “manipulation”. Copies of this statement were presented to key embassies near Monrovia including the American and British Embassies. Subsequently, ten arrests were made and the case was transferred from the 3rd Judicial Circuit Court in Sinoe County to the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Grand Bassa County. The case was scheduled to be heard during the August Term of Court.

Trial Proceedings 

The August Term of Court opened on August 12th, 2019 and the Johnny’s Town Murder Case was the first on the docket. Seven persons indicted for murder, gang rape, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and criminal facilitation faced a jury trial with fifteen jurors handing down the verdict. Initially, ten persons were arrested, indicted and taken to court in relation to this case. Three were nolle prosequoi, (the legal term for dropping charges against an accused for lack of evidence). Final arguments in the case were heard on Friday, August 30. Immediately thereafter, the jury unanimously handed down a guilty verdict against all seven indictees.

Sinoe County Women Platform

Prior to the opening of the August Term of Court, NIPO and FCI jointly sponsored ten members of the Sinoe County Women Platform to Grand Bassa County to continue advocacy actions and witness legal proceedings. The sponsorship covered the travel, accommodation and feeding of the ten-member team. They arrived in Grand Bassa County on the 10th of August and were met on arrival by NIPO and FCI. Advocacy in Grand Bassa was coordinated and executed alongside the Grand Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA).

The women gathered before the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court holding placards with inscriptions such as “No Excuse for Abuse” and “They Deserve Justice”, and called for a speedy and fair trial. They were assured that there was no need for protest actions because the case was the first on the docket.  This position was reinforced by the president of the Grand Bassa County Bar Association who spoke with the women and assured them that the Bar would do everything necessary to ensure that justice is served in a timely manner.

This case significantly helped the Platform to expand its network and amplify their voices at the regional level. Thanks to collaboration with the Grand Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA). The women continuously recommitted themselves to continuing their advocacy until the case was brought to a logical end.

Lorraine G. Mennon is the chairperson for the Platform. She committed to providing leadership in planning, organizing and implementing continuous advocacy actions and coordinating activities of the Platform until perpetrators were brought to book. She described the unanimous guilty verdict as a magnificent precedence and prayed that the state takes similar action against other people indicted for harmful traditional practices and violence against women and girls across Liberia. Madam Mennon informed NIPO and FCI that they will keep the Platform proactive, indicating that smaller community awareness actions will be organized and implemented to inform local women and girls about the effects of harmful traditional practices, expand knowledge and information about the Platform and create linkages with towns and villages with the view of monitoring, documenting, reporting and advocating against these bad cultural practices.

NIPO’s Lawyer joined the Prosecution Team

On Monday, August 12th, NIPO’s lawyer, Atty. Freeman, joined the prosecution team and promised to put his legal and research expertise to the disposal of the government towards winning the case. He promised to play active role in the cross examination of defense witnesses but later restricted his role to liaising with and motivating state lawyers. He told NIPO that after examining all the pieces of evidence against the accused, proof was evident and presumption great for their conviction. Atty. Freeman was hired and is paid by NIPO’s access to justice project, funded by UNDP-Liberia through Oxfam.

Conclusion

The Johnny’s Town Trial was a landmark case involving harmful traditional practices which inflicted serious injuries on two of three young Liberian women. This inhumane and criminal act led to the gruesome death of one of the victims and the hospitalization of another. Due to sustained advocacy actions at both the county and national levels, ten arrests were made, the case transferred to a neutral location and the survivors relocated. Legal proceedings in the case began in this August Term of Court. NIPO, FCI, Sinoe Women’s Platform and other women’s groups including the Bassa Women Development Association (BAWODA), were very unwavering in supporting the survivors’ protection and access to justice in this case.

NIPO and FCI’s advocacy around this case was supported by Oxfam with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.  The project, called “Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women” or FLOW, has the goals of promoting women’s rights to be heard and to live free from violence. The FLOW Project has successfully run in Liberia since 2016.

The lawyer hired by NIPO to support the State’s case is paid by the UNDP through Oxfam. This project is called “Strengthening Access to Justice for Women and Girls in Sinoe and Grand Gedeh.”

Due process was necessary to rendering justice against harmful traditional practices, protecting women and girls from the dangers of the practice, punishing perpetrators for wrongful actions and finding redress for victims and survivors. This landmark verdict has brought great relief to survivors and their families and set the right precedence that would possibly deter would-be perpetrators of harmful traditional practices in Liberia.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Oxfam, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, or the UNDP.

Source: Johnny’s Town Murder Trial: Finally, Justice Is Done!