Professor Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah, Acting dean, Faculty of Law, Central University College, has urged civil society groups in advocacy to mount pro bono defamation suits on behalf of persons accused of witchcraft.
He said the regular and sustained recourse to law suits might contribute to combating the spate of witchcraft accusations against vulnerable individuals and the perpetration of physical, psychological, emotional, economic and social violence against them.
“It is also high time that action is instituted to have the Supreme Court pronounce on whether confinement of alleged witches at ‘prayer camps’ for purposes of exorcising witchcraft or otherwise extracting confessions from alleged witches, or providing treatment to the suspected witch, constitute cruel, unusual or degrading treatment or treatment or punishment,” he added.
Prof Attafuah said a positive verdict should pave the way for legislatively outlawing all such practices without infringing on the fundamental human rights to freedom of religion and the pursuit of therapeutic aid in times of ill-health.
He was speaking at the National Conference on Witchcraft Accusations and Human Rights Abuses in Ghana organised by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in collaboration with ActionAid Ghana and IBIS, Ghana.
The Conference also coincided with this year’s International Human Rights Day to commemorate the United Nations’ adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Prof Attafuah said to call or accuse a person of witchcraft is to injure the person’s reputation in the eyes of right thinking members of society, and “I believe a civil suit for slander founded on witchcraft accusation has a good chance of success. I believe such accusation or name-calling is actionable per se.”
He, therefore, called for continuous hard work at achieving social development, promoting and entrenching the rule of law, and ensuring, through enhanced civic, political and human rights education, the focused democratisation of the society, including its public discourses and social spaces.
Nana Oye Lithur, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, said to affirm the country’s commitment to ending human rights abuses associated with witchcraft accusations, one of the six witchcraft camps in the Northern region – Bonyase Witch Camp- would be formally closed on December 15, 2014.
The process, she said, is being coordinated by ActionAid Ghana and its partners Songtaba, the Ministries of Gender, Children and Social Protection and Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs.
She said the process include the reintegration of more than 50 alleged witches into communities of their choice, increasing the total number of reintegration victims from 199 to 249 over the past year, adding, “government and other stakeholders will continue to work to ensure the full and total liberation of alleged witches in all the camps”.
Mrs Lithur said women, children, the aged, the disabled and the poor who are in most need of compassion and support are instead forced to withstand human rights abuses.
She said those accused face multiple threats to their physical, psychological and economic wellbeing as many as banished from their communities into witch camps.
She said issues of witchcraft accusations is deeply complex, extending beyond the issue of witch camps.
“Undoubtedly, witch camps are a blight on the national human rights record but they exist as a symptom of a larger problem. Witchcraft accusations intersect with mental health and domestic violence issues, as well as issues of poverty, disability and gender inequality,” she added.
The Minister therefore called for development and adoption of a well-coordinated multi-disciplinary strategy, backed by real commitment and strong leadership to ensure end the ‘shameful dehumanising practice’.
“It is only when we work together that we will finally be able to properly and comprehensively address a problem of the level of seriousness and complexity. Although it is clear there is still work to be done in the fight against witchcraft accusations, I am proud of our nation’s efforts in combating harmful traditional practices such as this, “she added.
Dr Henry Seidu Daannaa, Minister for Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs, said the practice is as a result of lack of knowledge and advocated stronger public awareness creation to end the practice.
He said the only way to find solution to the problem is to continue talking about the issue and its socio-economic effects on the victims.
He therefore urged victims to be strong, bold and focus, and should not allow anybody to determine their lives for them.
“Let’s listen to the voice of God and nobody else,” he added.
Sherra Muntari, President of Alleged Witchcraft Network, commended government and its partners as well as the camp owners for their efforts to liberate and reintegrate them into society.
She said the rate at which the number kept increasing at the camp is becoming worrisome to both the old inmates and Ghana at large and appealed to authorities to put in concrete measures to end the practice.
She said the education of their dependents is equally affected by their plights and urged the stakeholders to do something about their wards education as well as provide them with potable drinking water and places of convenient to easy their plights.
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