Leo in Geneva

Leo Igwe has an excellent article about religious laws versus human rights, which I think is a statement he made to the UN Human Rights Council a few days ago. Leo has very concrete, in your face, up close and personal experience of the relationship between religious “laws” and human rights, since he spends much of his time trying to repair the damage done by witch hunts and witch hunters and people who make claims about child “witches” in order to get money from the children’s parents to get rid of the “witches.”

Religious laws are legalised religious doctrines. They are “revelations” turned into rules to govern society. Religious laws are sacred dogma institutionalised. They are sins criminalised. They are religious hatred, intolerance, discrimination and fanaticism turned into state policies. In most parts of Africa, the negative impact of religious laws on democracies and human rights systems is clear and compelling – from the wars, conflicts and anarchy in Somalia, Northern Uganda, and in the Sudan, to the threats posed by Islamism to the Arab Spring in North Africa and the peaceful coexistence of people in Nigeria; from the witch hunts in Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Kenya, Guinea Conakry, Mozambique and the Central African Republic, to the wave of homophobia sweeping across different countries with overt and covert support from the OIC, the Vatican and other religious agencies that foster religious laws and its discontents across the globe. How we address this ‘sensitive’ issue of religious law – particularly here at the Human Rights Council – will go a long way in determining the future of democracy and human rights in the world.

I hope the HRC listened very attentively to Leo, and thought hard about what he said.

Also inspired by religious laws are those persecuting alleged witches in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Congo, Central African Republic, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Angola. Even where there are enabling state laws to address the problem, in many cases the religious laws in the minds of the people overwhelm, and take precedence over state laws. Or the existing law will be twisted and misinterpreted to convict the alleged witch and acquit the accuser.

Hence it should not surprise anyone that theocratic agencies like the Vatican, the Church of England, the OIC and their member states have not come out openly and categorically to condemn accusations of witchcraft and spirit possession sweeping across Africa and Asia and among African and Asian overseas communities.

It’s a good question, isn’t it. The Vatican is terribly terribly concerned about fetuses…why is it so unconcerned about children accused of being witches? The OIC is terribly terribly concerned about “defamation” of religion and “blasphemy” and cartoons and the like – why is it so unconcerned about children accused of being witches? Why do theocratic organizations have such horribly twisted priorities?

Homophobia: And now compare the deafening silence and indifference of African states to combating witchcraft related abuses with their vehement and strident opposition to recognizing the human rights of gay people. The reasons often cited to justify and sanctify homophobic legislations in the region are as follows: That homosexuality is unbiblical, un-Koranic and ungodly! In other words, the African states have these sacred texts, not their constitutions, as their grundnorm.

Recently, many African states and most of the OIC member states walked out of the session convened by the Council to discuss violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With that walk out, they have made their position clear:  they do not want these human rights violations to be discussed or addressed, nor will they be party to addressing them. They should not be held responsible and accountable. In other words, they are saying that the human rights abuses on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity should continue, because that is in accordance with the ‘divine’ law in these countries.

Exactly so. How terrible it is that Leo’s voice is such a singular one.


  1. psocoptera says

    The first time I realized people still believed in witchcraft was a few years back when I got an early reviewer copy of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.” In this otherwise wonderful story about a kid building a windmill from scraps based on an old textbook, he drops a sentence about how witches are a problem in Africa, and they need to be prosecuted. I read that about four times, thinking that I was missing something. I still sometimes think I misread it. In addition to science textbooks, I am thinking that I should start donating copies of “The Crucible” to developing countries. Blows my mind. U.S. evangelicals & fundies fanned the flames re: gay rights. Couldn’t confine their evil to the places they live or something.

  2. mirax says

    First of all, Leo is great!

    It is frightening to contemplate the strength and tenacity of the forces aligned against such basic human rights. Too many cultural relativists and religious apologists simply dont care for the plight of the millions caught up in horrors such as those Leo describes. I despair that we dont have enough Leo’s to fight back.

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