UNHCR, UNICEF & SA CRL Rights Commission condemn witch-hunts


In January 2009 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a working report on human rights abuses committed as a result of witchcraft accusations.

“An extensive literature review of journal articles, UNHCR internal documents and newspapers has shown that witchcraft accusations lead to violence and persecution in locations throughout the world. Protection concerns from witchcraft allegations can occur at home and also impact individuals throughout the cycle of displacement. Witchcraft-related violence may manifest as domestic violence, child abuse, or mob justice. […] UNHCR and governments need to be prepared to apply refugee law to claims that are based on witchcraft. By being aware that the phenomenon of witch persecution is still very much alive, those in the refugee field may be better prepared to pre-empt or respond to the associated violence and provide protection as needed.”

New Issues In Refugee Research Research Paper No. 169
Witchcraft allegations, refugee protection and human rights: a review of the evidence. (January 2009)
Jill Schnoebelen. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)


In April 2009 Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director of Stepping Stones Nigeria, appealed to the UNHCR to address increasing accusations of witchcraft against children in Nigeria.

“At the international level, Stepping Stones Nigeria, along with numerous other civil society organisations around the world, is witnessing a dramatic rise in witchcraft accusations and subsequent gross violations of human rights that take place due to them. However, to date, this phenomenon has received little in the way of concerted attention from the wider humanitarian community. Stepping Stones Nigeria believes that, left unchallenged and inadequately understood, witchcraft accusations will increasingly become an issue of pressing concern for the UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations working with refugees, asylum seekers and traf?cking victims in the years to come.”

Witchcraft Accusations: A Protection Concern for UNHCR and the Wider Humanitarian Community? (April 2009)
Gary Foxcroft, Programme Director, Stepping Stones Nigeria to UNHCR.


In April 2010 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published evidence of an increase in accusations of witchcraft against children “…including orphans, street-children, albinos, those with physical disabilities or abnormalities such as autism, those with aggressive or solitary temperaments, children who are unusually gifted; those who were born prematurely or in unusual positions, and twins” in sub-Saharan Africa, including specifically Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria. According to this report a majority of the victims are males between the ages of 8 and 14.

Children Accused of Witchcraft: An anthropological study of contemporary practices in Africa (April 2010) Aleksandra Cimpric – UNICEF WCARO, Dakar

Children in Benin who were branded as witches for their “abnormal” births (16 July 2010)

Among UNICEF ‘s recommendations, the report details 1) the regulation of both traditional healers, who traditionally act as Witch-finders and Pentecostal revivalist churches who advocate Witch-sniffing as a means to spiritual salvation, 2) strengthening of evidence and understanding of Witchcraft accusations against children, 3) promoting social change through dialogue on Witchcraft accusations, 4) access to child and family welfare services for child victims, 5) promoting the role of health professionals in protecting children accused of Witchcraft and 6) access to the legal system for children accused of Witchcraft, including legal reform to decriminalize Witchcraft.


In March 2011 the South African ‘Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities’ (CRLRC) publicly announced its support for the South African Pagan Rights Alliance’s annual campaign against witch-hunts.

Murders of people accused of witchcraft (29 Mar 2011)
Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities

In January 2012 the CRLRC publicly condemned “the ongoing violent victimization and the killing of elderly persons labelled as witches” and called on Traditional leaders, community councils and government departments to “assist in deepening peace, friendship, tolerance and respect for human dignity and communal cohesion among all the people of South Africa in pursuit of social justice and equality, irrespective of suspicions that would not be proven in the court of law.” 

The CRL Rights Commission condemns the killings of alleged witches in Ntuzuma, KwaZulu-Natal (13 Jan 2012)


Next: OHCHR – experts propose action on witch-hunts