23.02.2024 Feature Article

Stop Witchcraft Accusations and Trial by Ordeal in Guinea Bissau

Stop Witchcraft Accusations and Trial by Ordeal in Guinea Bissau
23.02.2024 LISTEN

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches urges the government of Guinea Bissau to take urgent measures to end witch persecution and jungle justice in the country. This call is in reference to the reported death of eight women accused of causing a sudden illness and the death of two young persons in Culade in the Cacheu region. The report says that twenty-nine persons were accused, and a traditional priest forced them to drink some poisonous potion. Eight of the accused died after drinking this concoction. Twenty one persons were taken to a hospital in Sao Domingos. A local source says that this practice is common, and 'traditional animist belief' in witches is strong in that part of the country. That trial by ordeal is common is not an excuse for this savage crime. That the belief in witches is strong in the area is not a justification for this barbaric practice. Guinea Bissau must rally against the superstitious belief in witches and the harmful practice of witch persecution and trial by ordeal.

The government should take steps to ensure that this tragic incident does not happen again. First of all, the government should take all legal and administrative measures against those implicated in this horrific abuse. The report already noted that witch trials were common in the area. So the government has all the necessary intelligence to provide an adequate response. State authorities should punish perpetrators. These abuses reoccur because of impunity; because perpetrators go unpunished. And there are no consequences for witch persecution and killing. Authorities in Guinea Bissau must sit up and strive to fulfill their responsibility to protect innocent citizens, especially the vulnerable population. This incident is a clear demonstration of state failure and dereliction of duty.

In addition, as in other parts of Africa, witch hunting is gendered in Guinea-Bissau. Women are predominantly the target and victims. The government should take measures to protect the lives and rights of women, especially those who live in high-risk areas of the country. The state should introduce a helpline where people could call for emergency help and assistance in the provinces that are notorious for witchcraft accusations and witch persecutions. The government should take measures against the local priest and witch hunter who administered poisonous concoctions to alleged witches. Any priest who administers poison to a person is no longer a priest but a murderer. The police should go after the priest and ensure that he answers for his crimes.

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches asks the government to use this incident as a test case and send a strong message to would-be accusers and murderers of alleged witches. The government should make it clear that witchcraft accusations, witch persecutions, and trial by ordeal have no place in 21st century Guinea Bissau.

Leo Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches