Interpretation of sorcery accusation related violence survivor

Image drawn by Judith Forsyth

Tackling witchcraft related human rights violations

21st September 2017

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Miranda Forsyth is an Associate Professor at RegNet and also a Fellow at SSGM in the College of Asia and Pacific at ANU. The broad focus of Miranda’s research is investigating the possibilities and challenges of the inter-operation of state and non-state justice and regulatory systems.

At present her focus is on examining these issues in the context of both the protection of traditional knowledge and introduction of western intellectual property regimes, and also the regulation of sorcery and witchcraft related violence in Melanesia. Her research has had a strong focus on Vanuatu to date, but in the last few years she has also researched other countries in the Pacific islands region, particularly PNG, Fiji and Samoa.

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RegNet researcher Miranda Forsyth speaks at UN event about witchcraft-related violence in the Asia-Pacific.

In numerous countries around the world, witchcraft related beliefs and practices have resulted in serious violations of human rights including, beatings, banishment, cutting of body parts, and amputation of limbs, torture and murder. Women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, particularly persons with albinism, are particularly vulnerable. Despite the seriousness of these human rights abuses, there is often no robust state-led response.

"There are gaps in applicable legal frameworks and challenges with implementation and enforcement, and far too often perpetrators are not brought to justice. This impunity simply cannot be tolerated.”
Ikponwosa Ero, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism (one of the main convenors of the event).

The workshop is ground-breaking as it is the first ever to discuss witchcraft and human rights in a systematic and in-depth manner at the UN or international level. It will bring together UN Experts, academics and members of civil society to discuss the violence associated with such beliefs, and practices and groups that are particularly vulnerable.

On 22 September 2017, ANU’s Dr Miranda Forsyth will be speaking about violence associated with accusations of witchcraft, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Forsyth’s research looks at the regulation of sorcery and witchcraft related violence in Melanesia. Her research has had a strong focus on Vanuatu to date, but in the last few years she has also researched other countries in the Pacific islands region, particularly PNG, Fiji and Samoa.

The workshop will enable UN experts, States, academics and members of civil society to develop a greater understanding of witchcraft and related harmful practices. The event, which will hear from victims of witchcraft and activists working on the issue from various regions of the world, is being held in the margins of the current session of the Human Rights Council.

The event takes place on 21 and 22 September in the headquarters of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Expected outcomes of the event:

  • enable greater understanding of witchcraft related beliefs and practices, and their impact on the enjoyment of human rights, with a view to developing solutions to prevent further abuses from taking place.
  • discuss violence, highlight manifestation, identify good practice and discuss the adequacy of existing legal framework to ensure State legal duty.
  • mainstream the issue into the UN Human Rights System and provide practical guidance to relevant actors.
  • an outcome document containing the substantive discussion as well as a synthesis of recommendations will be produced as an addendum of the annual report to the UN Human Rights Council of the UN Independent Expert on the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism and, thereafter, available for distribution in different languages.

Find out more

Dr Forsyth recently gave a public lecture at the ANU about sorcery accusation related violence in PNG which is available as a podcast.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet