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Human rights wronged

U.N. invites professor to speak at witchcraft accusation workshop

Robert Priest was one of thirty to speak on witchcraft accusations at a U.N. workshop held in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photograph provided by Robert Priest)

Robert Priest was one of thirty to speak on witchcraft accusations at a U.N. workshop held in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photograph provided by Robert Priest)

By Gabby Carlson | Echo

Robert Priest, professor of anthropology, spoke at a United Nations (U.N.) Experts Workshop held in Geneva, Switzerland on Sept. 21-22. The workshop highlighted witchcraft accusations happening in Europe and Africa in today’s culture. Thirty experts were brought in from all over the world, Priest being one of them, to discuss what can be done about these accusations.

A witchcraft accusation is when a person believes a tragedy happens to them because of another person. Therefore, the victim finds a vulnerable person in their society and accuse them of being a “witch,” and that leads to their persecution, whether that be beatings, banishment, amputation of limbs, torture or even murder.

Witchcraft practices and beliefs around the world have come to violate human rights. Most victims are the vulnerable, such as widows, women, the disabled, the elderly and, more recently, young orphans. Despite the severity of the violations, witchcraft accusations differentiate between cultures, making a definition and consensus difficult to agree upon, according to the pamphlet for the workshop.

Nollywood — Africa’s and specifically Nigeria’s — version of Hollywood, does not aid in the fight against witchcraft. Rather, they consider it a normality. In 2009, 872 films were produced by Nollywood and distributed all over the continent of Africa, many involving witchcraft related themes.

“Though they are usually cheap and of poor quality, these movie videos are one of the most powerful promoters of belief and practice of occultism, witchcraft belief and practice, Spiritism and ancestral veneration,” General Secretary of Evangelical Churches Winning All (ECWA) Samuel Waje Kunhiyop said in a blog post from Feb. 2, 2016. “Movie directors and producers deliberately and intentionally portray and re-enact these beliefs in such a manner that they reconnect with African worldview on witchcraft.” Kunhiyop was also a speaker at the workshop.

This workshop is considered groundbreaking, as it is the first-ever to discuss witchcraft and human rights in a systematic and in-depth manner at the U.N. or international level. The goal was to bring understanding of the practices and beliefs of witchcraft and how they impact human rights.

According to Priest, there was no consensus to what would be done to stop the issue. However, steps are being taken to draft a document to stop these witchcraft accusations. To learn more, many of the speakers who were at the workshop contribute their research to a website through the Carl F. H. Henry Center.

Priest will teach a class in the spring called The Anthropology of Magic, Witchcraft and Religion that will touch on the issue of witchcraft accusations and his experience in the field.

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