Ghana - Killing of Witches & Tandem Project Follow-up








Separation of Religion or Belief & State (SOROBAS)






Killing of Witches  


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Issue: Ghana – Killing of Witches, Human Rights & Freedom of Religion or Belief


For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society


Review: Ghana - Universal Periodic Review & Tandem Project Follow-up.  


The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. UPR Introduction and News:


The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process is an opportunity for UN Member States, NGOs and civil society to support genuine and inclusive dialogue, progress assessment and promotion of Article 18 and the 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief.





The Tandem Project Mission is education, progress assessment and advocacy for Article 18 – “everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion or belief”- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the 1981 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.


In 1968 the UN deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance because of its complexity and sensitivity. Violence, suffering and discrimination based on religion or belief in many parts of the world is greater than ever. It is time for a UN Working Group to draft what they deferred in 1968, a comprehensive core international human rights treaty-a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief


The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process is a four year cycle to implement National Reports on human rights obligations and responsibilities, and recommendations made by UN Member States, NGOs, civil society and other stakeholders. The Tandem Project Follow-up objective is to encourage an exchange ideas and programs on human rights and freedom of religion or belief.





Ghana is one of eight countries in a survey on the killing of witches in the report (A/HRC/11/2) to the eleventh session of the UN Human Rights Council, June 2009, by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.


Excerpts: “The relevance of the practice of witchcraft to human rights is clearly a complex matter, and it is not possible to do justice to it within the confines of a report of this nature. Perhaps the most appropriate starting point is to examine the contexts in which attention has been brought to the human rights consequences of the phenomenon in recent years. Any such survey is inevitably incomplete, but it can nevertheless provide an insight into the nature of the challenges that need to be addressed.”


The persecution and killing of individuals accused of practicing so-called “witchcraft” – the vast majority of who are women and children-is a significant phenomenon in many parts of the world, although it has not featured prominently on the radar screen of human rights monitors. This may be due partly to the difficulty of defining “witches” and “witchcraft” across cultures-traditional or faith healing practices and are not easily defined. The fact remains, however, that under the rubric of the amorphous and manipulability designation of witchcraft, individuals (often those who are somehow different, feared or disliked) are singled out for arbitrary private acts of violence or for Government-sponsored or tolerated acts of violence. In too many settings, being classified as a witch is tantamount to receiving a death sentence.


While there has been a steady trickle of reports from civil society groups alleging the persecution and killing of persons accused of being witches, the problem has never been addressed systematically in the context of human rights…A prominent exception is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which acknowledges in its guidelines that women are still identified as witches in some communities and burned or stoned to death. These practices may be culturally condoned in the claimant’s community of origin but still amount to persecution.


Defining witches and witchcraft is not an easy task. “Witchcraft” has denoted many different practices or beliefs at different times and in diverse cultures. In some cultures, belief in witchcraft is rare; in others, people see it as “everyday and ordinary, forming as it does an integral part of their daily lives. Such beliefs are not confined to any particular strata of society, whether in terms of education, income or occupation…Today, in the social sciences, and especially in the disciplines of religious studies, anthropology and ethnology, a wide range of contemporary beliefs and practices termed “witchcraft” or “sorcery” are studied around the world.”


Report: of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – Philip Alston. (A/HRC/11/2)


Websites, Conferences and Reports


Google: Advanced Search: Ghana, Killing of Witches


Google is the best source for a quick Internet review of Killing of Witches in Ghana. This link includes articles, newspaper stories, Youtube, conferences, websites and other sources. For in-depth research, academic searches in libraries and other source are necessary.


African Traditional Religions:


“African traditional religions, that are also referred to as African indigenous religions is a term referring to a variety of religions indigenous to the continent of Africa. Like tribal religions from other parts of the world, African religious traditions are defined largely along community lines.


Traditional African religions involve teachings, practices, and rituals that lend structure to indigenous African societies. These traditional African religions also play a large part in the cultural understanding and awareness of the people of their communities.” The Wikipedia free encyclopedia on Traditional African Religions can be read by clicking on the link above.


The Ashanti of Ghana:


Ashanti, or Asanti, are a major ethnic group of Ashanti Region in Ghana. Prior to European colonization, the Ashanti people developed a large and influential empire in West Africa. The Ashanti later developed the powerful Ashanti Confederacy or Asanteman and became the dominant presence in the region.


Today Ashanti number close to 7 million people (roughly 15% of the Ghanaian population, speaking Asante, also referred to as Twi, a member of the Niger-Congo language group.) Their political power has fluctuated since Ghana’s independence, but they remain largely influential. The former president of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufour is Ashanti. The majority of the Ashanti reside in the Ashanti Religion, one of the administrative regions of the country.” The Wikipedia free encyclopedia on Ashanti can be read by clicking on the link above.


Kofi Annan: Former UN Secretary-General:

“Kofi Atta Annan, a Ghanaian diplomat, served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1 January 1997 to 1 January 2007. Annan and the United Nations were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. Annan’s family was part of the country’s elite; both of his grandfathers and his uncle were tribal chiefs. His father was Ashanti, and his mother a Fante. In the Ghanaian tradition, children are named according to the day of the week on which they were born. Kofi in Akan is the name that corresponds with Friday.


The former UN Secretary-General received a Ford Foundation grant, enabling him to complete his undergraduate studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He then did an advanced degree in International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. The Wikipedia free encyclopedia on Kofi Annan can be read by clicking on the link above. The Tandem Project suggestion for the involvement of Kofi Annan on this issue is part of the recommendation to the Macalester College Institute for Global Citizenship below.


Study of Law and Religion, Emory University:


The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University is home to world-class scholars and forums on the religious foundations of law, politics, and society. It offers first-rank expertise on how the teachings and practices of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have shaped and can continue to transform the fundamental ideas and institutions of our public and private lives. The scholarship of CSLR faculty provides the latest perspectives, while its conferences and public forums foster reasoned and robust public debate.


Western perceptions of religion and church-state relations must be put aside before productive conversations about law, religion, and human rights can take place in sub-Saharan Africa, according to religious liberty scholars and activists who took part in a conference hosted by the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) April 30-May 3, 2008, in Durban, South Africa…The conference discovered that when discussing religion in Africa, the immediate challenge is defining the word “religion,” because its meaning is tangled in colonial imposition of western definitions upon African cultural practices.”


The conference proposes from an international human rights perspective to “identify ongoing and future problem areas relating to the relationship between church and state and the interaction of religion and law in the various regions and countries of the world.” If defining the word “religion” is difficult because it imposes western definitions upon African cultural practices, how can alternative languages be structured that would accommodate both the Constitutions and traditional African cultural practices of these countries at local levels?


Excerpts: “Another subject that contributes to the religious confusion is a widespread belief in witchcraft. The problem lies in the debate between whether or not witchcraft should be treated as religion or mere superstition. If witchcraft is considered a religion, should it be protected? Would it be constitutional for self-proclaimed witches and wizards to practice their religion, even if in some cases it involves violation of others’ rights?


The subject matter is sensitive and raises the question of ‘traditional beliefs and practices versus the rule of law.’ Many African traditional practices are misunderstood because of a perceived similarity to clearly defined religious activities in other parts of the world. African constitutions reflect almost all varieties of church-state relations, but “the theoretical constitutional provisions regulating the relationship between church and state are perhaps in most cases fiction rather than fact. Selected papers presented at the Durban Conference will be published in the African Human Rights Journal, and some of the more complex issues that arose are being explored by CSLR and other conference participants.”


  • Recommendation: The Tandem Project Follow-up suggests it is essential, for the Ghana Universal Periodic Review and for other countries in Africa, to move forward on an analysis of these issues raised by CSLR, exploring ways in which African constitutions and human rights mechanisms can be reconciled with issues of racism, religion and African cultural traditions through new curricula and advocacy. Professor Johan van der Vyver, a South African and expert on international human rights at CSLR, with South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, an advisor to CSLR, might be encouraged to explore this with UN Special Rapporteurs and international academics and institutions from other countries identified by Philip Alston and the CSLR conference.  


Macalester College Institute for Global Citizenship;


Macalester College is a nationally prominent, privately supported liberal arts college. It was founded in 1874 as a Presbyterian-related but non-sectarian college. Macalester’s commitments to academic excellence, internationalism, diversity and civic engagement are reflected in the lives of its graduates, including United States Vice President Walter Mondale ’50 and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan ’61. There are students at Macalester College from over ninety countries.


The Macalester College Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC) dedicated a new building in 2009. The mission of is: “To encourage, promote and support rigorous learning that prepares students for lives as effective and ethical ‘global leaders;’ innovative scholarship that enriches the public and academic discourse on important issues of global significance; and meaningful service that enhances such learning and/or scholarship while enriching the communities within which Macalester is embedded.” Former United Nations Secretary General and Macalester graduate ’61 attended the opening of the new building in 2009. 


  • Recommendation: The Tandem Project Follow-up suggests Macalester College Institute of Global Citizenship (IGC) encourage a discussion by faculty and students on ways they can use the Ghana Universal Periodic Review as an opportunity for scholarship and citizenship development in all human rights issues addressed in the Ghana National Report. This includes scholarship and learning on elimination of all forms of Killing of Witches in Ghana. Such a discussion might invite Kofi Annan, Ghanaian Nobel Peace Prize winner and alumnus of Macalester College, African Studies, International Studies and the courses on human rights at Macalester College to participate. The Macalester Faculty Development International Seminar in 2010 will be held in The Hague, Netherlands, the topic is human rights The Macalester College International Roundtable at Macalester will be on human rights in 2010. Both are opportunities for follow-up to the Ghana Universal Periodic Review. 


U.S. State Department: State Department 2007 International Religious Freedom Report, Ghana.


The State Department Office of International Religious Freedom has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. In October 1998, President Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act, passed unanimously by both the House of Representative and the Senate. The law (PL 106-55) mandates an Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describing the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations, and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world.


The Tandem Project uses the research of these annual reports as sources for Universal Periodic Reviews, including progress assessment on Ghana - Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief (See attachment).


U.S. President Barack Obama made an official visit to Ghana last week addressing the Ghanaian Parliament. In his address he congratulated Ghana for the peaceful transfer of power in democratic elections last December, reflected on the need for good governance, self-help through economic development and a pledge of U.S. partnership for humanitarian purposes. Obama began by saying; “we must start with the premise that Africa’s future is up to Africans.” President Obama and his family toured Cape Coast Castle, a former slave trading post where slaves sold and placed in the holds of slave ships for the trans-Atlantic journey into servitude.


The intersection of human rights, racism, religion and cultural traditions is not clearly understood.  The United Nations has tried through educational efforts since passage of the 1966 International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Racism (CERD) and the recently concluded Durban Review Conference. The issue of the Killing of Witches has unique dimensions in all countries. In the United States the Salem Witch Trials in the 1640’s in Salem, Massachusetts is a tragic history of President Barack Obama’s country:


Excerpts: U.S. State Department Ghana Report; “Belief in witchcraft remained strong in many areas. Traditional village authorities and families continued to banish rural women for suspected witchcraft. Most accused witches were older women, often widows, whom fellow villagers identified as the cause of difficulties such as illness, crop failure, or financial misfortune. Many of these banished women were sent to live in "witch camps," villages in the north of the country populated by suspected witches. The women did not face formal legal sanction if they returned home; however, most feared that they would be beaten or lynched if they returned to their villages. Fearing violence against them, many women accused of being witches did not pursue legal action to challenge charges against them or return to their communities.

This practice was prevalent mainly in the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West regions of the country. There were no official figures on the number of accused women living in "witch camps." NGOs conducting sensitization workshops in the North estimate this number to be near 3,000. Even though the number of named witches present in the camps was quite high, the numbers had stabilized over the past few years and were slowly decreasing. Outreach and community sensitization by various NGOs have made considerable progress in rehabilitating the accused women back into their communities and preventing acts of violence against them.

Although the law provides protection for alleged witches, there were several cases of lynching and assault against those accused of witchcraft. In August 2006 a local NGO in the Northern Region reported that police refused to take the statement of a woman who had been assaulted by a group of villagers for fear that she would cast a spell on them. The NGO observed that such cases are not uncommon.

The Government, under the auspices of the Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit, continued to prosecute persons who committed acts of violence against suspected witches and also refrained from charging anyone solely on the basis of witchcraft.”

  • Recommendation: The Tandem Project understands the mission of the State Department is to represent the United States of America on foreign policy concerns. With respect to Ghana, it may be helpful to dialogue with the Ghanaian government before writing the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report on Killing of Witches. Because of President Obama’s recent visit to Ghana his administration may have ideas on how the United States can support follow-up to the Ghana Universal Periodic Review and prepare for the United States of America Universal Periodic Review to be held by the UN Human Rights Council in December 2010. The Tandem Project suggests NGOs and civil society in Ghana and the United States create development models on local-national-international integrated approaches to Freedom of Religion or Belief: See USA Example: Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief

Women accused of witchcraft: Report on Country Visit to Ghana (A/HRC/7/6/Add.3) by UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Erturk.

Excerpts: Women accused of witchcraft:

62.       There are many cases, in which women - and occasionally men - are accused of practicing witchcraft to bring harm to members of their family or community.


63.       Belief in supernatural forces is deeply rooted in Ghanaian culture and still widely held, especially in rural areas and among the less educated. Being accused of practicing witchcraft is therefore a very serious charge that can have grave consequences. Accused women are often driven violently from their homes and communities, physically assaulted and, in extreme cases, also murdered.


64.       Despite its serious ramifications, an accusation of witchcraft can be easily triggered. A community member may dream that a certain woman is a witch or an adverse event occurs in the community that cannot be explained, such as a suspicious or unexpected death of a community member. Negative human sentiments such as jealousy or the desire to find a scapegoat are also at the base of witchcraft allegations. In some cases, witchcraft allegations seem to be deliberately directed at women who are successful and are seen as a threat to the patriarchal order.


65.       Therefore, while any woman can potentially be accused of being a witch, the victims of those accusations who suffer the most serious consequences are almost always elderly women, who lack family protection and do not have the power to defend themselves against their accusers.


66.       Violence against women branded as witches is reported from all regions, but the issue is more visible in the north due to the existence of so-called “witches’ camps”. This misleading term refers to settlements established with the consent of the local community, where women accused of witchcraft can seek refuge and protection from persecution by their own community or family. In that sense, a witches’ camp is a protection mechanism comparable to a women’s shelter. In some cases, family members may also join the accused at the witches’ camp.


67.       During the course of my visit, I visited the settlement in Gambaga (East Mamprusi District, Northern Region), which is officially called the Gambaga Outcast Home. Its origins are said to date back to around 1900, when a local Imam took pity on women accused of witchcraft and provided them with refuge. Eventually, the local chief (the Gambarana) assumed this protective role. The Gambarana is thought to be vested with the special spiritual power to determine whether a woman is a witch or not. It is also believed that he can purify witches and extinguish their supernatural powers.


68.       Around 80 women, aged between 40 and 70, live at the Gambaga Outcast Home, which is a compound of thatched huts situated adjacent to the village. Some women have lived in Gambaga for more than 20 years, because their community or family steadfastly refused their return. The local population in Gambaga is not afraid to live and interact with these women, since tradition holds that the local gods neutralize a witch’s power to practice her craft once she comes to Gambaga. Nevertheless, a certain stigma remains and women accused of witchcraft can usually only engage in certain limited income-generating activities such as firewood collection. Since they also lack the support of their own family, the women are completely destitute.


69.       The Gambaga Outcast Home Project, an exemplary initiative, provides support to women and facilitates their reintegration into their home communities. Since the convictions of the local population about witchcraft are very strong, the project does not question the very notion of witchcraft, but tries to address the social and the spiritual dimensions of each individual case. Aisha, 47, is one of the women supported by the project. She had to flee to Gambaga, when a woman from her community dreamt that she was a witch and subsequently died from a seemingly inexplicable cause. Community members severely beat her and her husband, when he tried to protect her. They burned her house and threatened to kill her. When she came to Gambaga, the Gambarana determined that she was indeed a witch and should, at least for the moment, not return to her community.


70.       After intense negotiations, the project staff managed to convince Aisha’s home community to rebuild Aisha’s house and allow her to occasionally visit her husband. The Gambarana has supported the reintegration process by performing a ritual to free the bewitched soul of the woman who supposedly died from Aisha’s alleged witchcraft. At the time of my visit, another ritual was being planned to fully remove Aisha’s supposed witchcraft powers and reconcile her with her community.


  • Recommendation: the UN Human Rights Council has appointed Ms. Rashda Manjoo (South Africa) as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences as successor to Ms. Yakin Erturk. Killing of Witches concerns women and men but most especially the abuse and treatment of women falsely accused of being witches. Ms. Manjoo will add an African dimension to the issue of the Killing of Witches in Ghana and other African countries. Ms. Manjoo is encouraged to consult with the CEDAW Committee; Ms. Erturk on her 2008 report on Ghana, Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Emory University Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) on follow-up to the Killing of Witches.   


CHRAJ:  Submission of UPR Report to the UN HCR:

The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) is the National Human Rights Institution of Ghana. It is a key source in Ghana for Universal Periodic Review Follow-up over the next four years, with 700 staff reaching even the most remote districts of Ghana. CHRAJ should be included in any education, training or other action plans to combat discrimination and the inhuman practice of killing of witches.





Proposals for constructive, long-term solutions to conflicts based on religion or belief:  


(1) Develop a model local-national-international integrated approach to human rights and freedom of religion or belief, appropriate to the cultures of each country, as follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review. 1. (2) Use International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a rule of law for inclusive and genuine dialogue on core values within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs, and for protection against discrimination. (3) Use the standards on freedom of religion or belief in education curricula and places of worship, “teaching children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and that it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.” 2.


Documents Attached:


Ghana UPR - Killing of Witches & Tandem Project Follow-up

Ghana - Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief




1: USA Example: Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief


2: Mr. Piet de Klerk, Ambassador At-Large of the Netherlands on Human Rights, 25 year Anniversary of 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Prague, Czech Republic.



United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.”


Genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief calls for respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive dialogue includes people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The warning signs are clear, unless there is genuine dialogue ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism; conflicts in the future will probably be even more deadly.


The challenge to religions or beliefs at all levels is awareness, understanding and acceptance of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. Leaders, teachers and followers of all religions or beliefs, with governments, are keys to test the viability of inclusive and genuine dialogue in response to the UN Secretary General’s urgent call for constructive and committed dialogue.


The Tandem Project title, Separation of Religion or Belief and State (SOROBAS), reflects the far-reaching scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4). The General Comment on Article 18 is a guide to international human rights law for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts:


Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.


We welcome ideas on how this can be accomplished;


The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.


The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the

Economic and Social Council of the United Nations