By RICHARD LLOYD PARRY,
They are burnt, stoned, slashed, poisoned or hanged. They range from the young to the elderly and more often than not they are women. Often they are killed by mobs of men but sometimes they face kangaroo courts. They are the “sorcerers” of
There have been more than 50 murders in recent months of people accused of practising black magic, according to human rights organisations. Authorities appear helpless to intervene although the Government has ordered a parliamentary commission to spend a year investigating ways to prevent witch-hunts, which arise from a tragic combination of tribalism, underdevelopment and superstition.
“When dozens of people have been killed, it's clear that the Government is not doing enough to protect its own citizens and maintain the rule of law,” said Apolosi Bose, of Amnesty International.
The persecution of the practitioners of black magic has a long history here in the eastern half of the vast tropical
Last Sunday a father and son were burnt alive close to
Last Friday a court in the town of
Accusations of witchcraft sometimes seem to be the pretext for the settling of local scores, and tend to be made by families who have lost a loved one to a disease without an obvious cause. Often this is cancer or, increasingly, Aids-related illnesses, which are spread by prostitution, scant use of condoms and high rates of rape and sexual violence against women. Victims of witch-hunts are often women who have married into a community from another tribe and who lack kinsmen of their own to defend or avenge them.
The objective existence of black magic is enshrined in
“People often don't trust the police or the judiciary and instead blame events on supernatural causes and punish suspected sorcerers,” said Mr Bose.