Deadly issue of witchcraft to be tackled at UN human rights gathering

The United Nations is hosting discussions about witchcraft. Reuters

Experts on witchcraft are gathering under the banner of the United Nations (UN) in Geneva this week for discussions aimed at tackling the phenomenon, which is estimated to kill, maim and otherwise affect thousands of people every year.

The gathering will enable UN experts, states, academics and members of civil society to develop a greater understanding of witchcraft, which is believed to be on the increase.

'In numerous countries around the world, harmful practices related to witchcraft result in serious human rights violations, such as various forms of torture and murder, discrimination and exclusion, including banishment from communities,' said the UN independent expert on the human rights of persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, who is one of the main organisers of the gathering.

'These attacks and violations, which frequently target people in vulnerable situations including persons with albinism, are astonishing in their brutality,' she added.

'In addition, there are gaps in applicable legal frameworks and challenges with implementation and enforcement, and far too often perpetrators are not brought to justice. This impunity simply cannot be tolerated.'

The workshop, which will hear from victims of witchcraft and activists working on the issue from various regions of the world, is being held in the margins of the current session of the Human Rights Council.

'This ground-breaking event means that, for the first time, witchcraft and human rights will be discussed in a holistic, systematic and in-depth manner, building on and consolidating critical work done on the issue to date by various experts including co-organizers of the event,' Ero said.

'Other goals of the event are to contribute to discourse on harmful practice and identify workable solutions.'

The killing of albino people is particularly prevalent in Tanzania, where one in 1,400 are affected by albinism, according to a 2006 BMC Public Health report. This compares with one in 20,000 in Western countries.

In 2015, the UN said that nearly 80 albino Tanzanians had been killed there since 2000.

That year, more than 200 witchdoctors and traditional healers were arrested in Tanzania in a crackdown on the murder of albino people.

The killings were driven by the belief, which is advanced by some witchdoctors, that the body parts have properties that confer wealth and good luck.

According to the Red Cross, witchdoctors are prepared to pay $75,000 (£50,000) for a complete set of albino body parts.

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