The United Nations should use the visit to Ghana of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Ms Gulnara Shahinian, to shine an international light on the menace of witch hunting in the country and in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Ms Gulnara Shahinian is scheduled to visit Ghana from 22 to 29 November 2013.
The aim of her visit is to ‘assess the situation on the ground with regard to slavery-like practices’ in the country. According to a press release from her office, Ms Shahinian will, during her stay in Ghana, ‘explore strategies to address the current challenges in ending such practices, including the use of the worst forms of child-labour in a number of economic sectors, and other forms of contemporary slavery that are often less visible such as domestic servitude, and those emerging from harmful traditional practices.’ Unfortunately, there was no mention of the harmful traditional practice of witch hunting in Ghana and the plight of accused persons, especially women, children, internally displaced due to witchcraft accusation in this west African nation. The UN should break the silence on witchcraft related abuse in Ghana now!
Witchcraft is a way many people in contemporary Africa interpret misfortune, and Witch hunting is still observed and ‘respected’ as a tradition in Ghana. Most victims of witch persecution lack protection under the law in Ghana. When it comes to issues concerning witchcraft, tradition trumps human rights. Suspected witches are attacked, killed or expelled from their communities.
The UN Special Rapporteur should use her visit to promote the campaign to end witch hunting in Ghana. The witch hunting situation in Ghana is unique because the country has ‘safe spaces’ where alleged witches take refuge. These places are called ‘witch’ camps. They are not official refugee camps. The ‘witch’ camps are makeshift shelters and part of the traditional mechanism for managing and containing witchcraft accusations.
I urge the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to pay a visit to any of the ‘witch’ camps in Kukuo, Gambaga, Gnani, Gushegu, Naboli, Kpatinga or Bonyase in Northern Region. She should explore ways of getting the UN involved in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of witchcraft accusation. In fact the UN special rapporteur should get the UN to adopt these camps as refugee camps or camps for internally displaced persons. Witchcraft is a traditional belief, and witch hunting is a traditional practice of expelling and trying by ordeal persons suspected of engaging in harmful occult practices. It is one of the issues Ms Gulnara Shahinian should raise during her visit. The UN Special Rapporteur should discuss with all stakeholders strategies of ending this terrible practice in Ghana. The UN should help make witch hunting history in Africa!