Some time ago, Professor Ronald Hutton emailed me asking if we at the Pagan Federation could support the efforts of WHRIN (The Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network) in their attempts to get the UN to pass a resolution on Harmful Practices: Accusations of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks (HPAWRA).
He sent me a bundle of information detailing the figures of attacks and crimes across the world which were both enlightening and horrifying. Of course, we enthusiastically supported the action that WHRIN were taking and took our place amongst all the other supporters of this valuable work.
A few days ago, another email from Professor Hutton landed in my inbox telling me that the resolution had passed. Here’s what he said:
“I have huge pleasure in forwarding to you the appended message from the Witchcraft and Human Rights Network, of which I sit on the committee. It confirms the passage of the resolution for which the network has been campaigning, by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, urging all states to outlaw harm done to humans in the name of magical beliefs. In essence, this means the beginning of the end of witch-hunting globally, though a long time will be needed to reach that result. The resolution was first drafted at a conference held at Lancaster University which was inspired in part by my book The Witch, that had called for such a worldwide effort. I was accordingly one of the two providers of keynote addresses to that conference, the other being by the United Nations representative. When the council initially rejected our resolution, by one vote, we set to work to redraft it and called on the support of many organisations, of which the Pagan Federation was one, and led so splendidly by you, it immediately rose to the occasion, for which I shall ever be grateful. It is not among the organisations thanked in Gary’s note, simply because there were so many that helped, and he is trying to show the international range of the effort. Let me assure you, however, that the solidarity which the PF showed with this movement has been noticed and valued. We have contributed to what could be a great historic moment.”
A historic moment indeed!
Here’s the press release from WHRIN themselves:
New Hope for Survivors as they Celebrate Historic UN Resolution Condemning Harmful Practices Related to Accusations of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks
Following 6 years of intensive advocacy by a coalition of survivors, NGOs, academics and lawyers, the UN Human Rights Council has passed a ground-breaking resolution, which “emphatically condemns harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks that result in human rights violations” said Ms. Ikponwosa Ero, UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.
Survivors of these harmful practices have expressed their great happiness at this news and optimism that it may be the start of the end of some of the most horrific human rights abuses imaginable. One of them is Mardoche Yembi, who was 8 when accused by a pastor of being a witch in London. He said: “When I heard the news about the resolution I felt fantastic. I can see that there is now hope for the future, especially for those who are going through what I suffered. Importantly, I also see real progress as 10 years ago it wasn’t like this. Thanks to all of the people who have helped make this happen there is now light at the end of the tunnel that these terrible practices may one day be eradicated”.
Across the world, women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, particularly persons with albinism, and other conditions such as epilepsy, autism and dementia suffer wide-ranging human rights abuses due to Harmful Practices Related to Accusations of Witchcraft and Ritual Attacks (HPAWR). These include, but are not limited to, killings, mutilation, exploitation and sale of persons, organs and body parts, burnings, grave robberies, torture and significant stigmatization of victims and their family members.
Both issues also strongly share several root causes including entrenched ignorance about causes of sickness and death, religious profiteering, as well as lack of access to adequate health care and information, poverty, and weak systems of justice and security.
Lancaster University’s Dr Charlotte Baker and Gary Foxcroft, Director of the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) said: “Reported data shows that in the last decade that there have been at least 20,000 victims of these harmful practices across 50 countries and 6 Continents who have faced extreme human rights violations including loss of life, limbs and property due to harmful practices. Today marks an important step towards delivering justice for them and preventing more abuses”.
One such person is Mariamu Staford who has albinism and hails from a small village in the Lake District in Tanzania. In 2008, while sleeping with her 2-year-old son, Mariamu was attacked by two men who cut off her arms, hoping to profit from the gruesome trade in body parts of people with albinism. Her son was unhurt, and she survived the loss of her arms after spending weeks in a hospital. Mariamu bravely identified her attackers, who were arrested but never convicted of the crimes they committed. In a bitter twist, her village turned against her for “bringing shame to them” by seeking justice. She said: “The UN resolution gives me personal hope, as a victim of these harmful practices, that one day justice will be served and they will end. Even better, the resolution ensures that people with albinism, who haven’t been victims are protected from such harmful practices. I pass my sincere gratitude to the UN for this landmark resolution that will ensure equity, equality and dignity for all people with albinism.”
Whilst UN resolutions are certainly not the only remedy to prevent such deeply engrained and complex harmful practices, this important step by the UN Human Rights Council could be a key turning point to prevent the horrendous violence which characterizes these types of harmful practices and which, for too long, have destroyed and taken too many lives.
 Coalition made up of the United Nations Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network & its member-organizations, Lancaster University,
Under the Same Sun, The National FGM Centre, UK, Doughty Street Chambers, UK, Australian National University, Divine Word University, Papua New Guinea, the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, the International Human Rights Program of the University of Toronto and Staffordshire University, UK.
 Concept Note on the Elimination of Harmful Practices related to Witchcraft Accusations and Ritual Killings available on this page – https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/albinism/pages/iealbinism.aspx
You can view the Resolution in it’s entirety here
TV Coverage of the historic moment can be seen at about 8 hours and 11 minutes here
I am humbled and proud that the Pagan Federation have been able to support such a milestone endeavour. Congratulations and thanks go to everyone at WHRIN, Professor Hutton and all the other academics and supporters of this monumental body of work.
Pagan Federation President