By Owen Nyaka:
President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera and his administration has been urged to demonstrate leadership in ending witchcraft accusations motivated killings, which disproportionately affects the elderly.
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) are dismayed by the continued attacks on people accused of witchcraft in the country and the failure to bring to justice perpetrators of such crimes.
In a statement released Thursday in Lilongwe, CHRR and CEDEP says while they commend Chakwera and his government for ratifying the African Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa, the two organisations urge the President to demonstrate leadership in ending witchcraft accusations-motivated violence, which disproportionately affects the elderly in the country.
The call comes after ugly face of violence and killing of suspected wizard in Salima district and CHRR and CEDEP have noted with serious concern ugly scenes of violence that erupted in Chikombe village in the area of Traditional Authority Makanjira on Saturday, April 10 this year which led to the death of a 60-year-old man, a Mr. Kalumbu, and the destruction of assorted property belonging to him worth millions of kwacha.
“According to reports from our community volunteers and confirmed by the Malawi Police Service, the man was killed as he tried to rescue an old woman from angry villagers, who wanted to burn her live on allegations that she was involved in the mysterious disappearance of another woman in the village.
“The old woman was among three people named by a certain witchdoctor as having a hand in the other woman’s disappearance. The deceased was another of those named. The killing of this innocent man brings the total number of deaths caused by witchcraft accusations that we have recorded in the country since 2019 to 66”, says the statement.
Worryingly, the statement says although there have been arrests 2 in all these cases, none of those arrests has so far led to a conviction, a situation that has contributed to the growing culture of impunity around witchcraft accusations-related violence in the country.
The statement which has been jointly signed by CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa and CEDEP Executive Director Gift Trapence says they wish to remind authorities that when attacks on people suspected of witchcraft remain unpunished, a very negative message is sent out there that killing those suspected of witchcraft is acceptable.
Perpetrators of such crimes are thus emboldened when they realize they can attack their targets without ever facing justice. This impunity not only emboldens perpetrators but also has a chilling effect on those most at risk of being accused of witchcraft, especially the elderly.
Our call for action In light of the foregoing, we recommend that the Malawi Police Service thoroughly, effectively and expeditiously investigate all criminal elements surrounding the Salima violence and ensure perpetrators face the law; While we commend Salima police for arresting suspects in this incident, we urge the police to ensure that those arrested are brought to justice without delay and that victims of this savage attack have access to appropriate remedies; We further urge the police to track down the witchdoctor who was behind the fracas.
The statement also says we also urge the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to do his part and ensure that once police investigations are concluded, the cases are committed to court for trial without any delays. We call upon government, through the Ministry of Civic Education And National Unity, to roll out a comprehensive mass awareness campaign to sensitize community on the rights of people accused of witchcraft and the law as it stands now.