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Religion, Witch Hunts, Homophobia and Human Rights in Africa

Religious laws are legalized religious doctrines. They are “revelations” turned into rules to govern society. Religious laws are sacred dogma institutionalized. They are sins criminalized. 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 Sudans, 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 will discuss this theme under three sub headings: witch hunts, homophobia and religious bloodletting.

Witch hunts

Witch hunting is going on in contemporary Africa due to the rule of codified and uncodified religious laws in the region. The tragic death in the UK of 15 year old Congolese boy Kristy Bamu has shocked many across the world. Bamu was tortured to death by family members who believed he was a ‘witch’ and that he should be suffered not to live as stated in the Christian holy book. What Kristy Bamu went through in the UK is what many children, women and elderly persons across Africa are suffering at this moment. The only difference is that while those who tortured and killed Bamu have been brought to justice, in most cases those who perpetrate such atrocities in Africa go scot free, they are never made to answer for their crimes.

I believe those who murdered Bamu must have done so out of obedience and faithfulness to the religious teaching and law as enshrined in Exodus 22:18-which says ‘Suffer not a witch to live’ and in other religious traditions and as contained in the religious indoctrination that marks the education and upbringing of most Africans.

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 its 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. One wonders why the so called Africa group has maintained a silence – I would say criminal silence - over the witchcraft related torture and killings going on in several African states?

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