Does a witch have human rights?

When a young girl was killed in Kasalgu, a tiny village in rural Ghana, no one thought to call the police or hire a lawyer.

Instead they went to the chief.

It’s the dry season in Kasalgu and people here are preparing their crops of maize and yam in yellow fields of sun-stroked earth. And though it’s only a 20 minute drive outside of Tamale, Ghana, the biggest city in the country’s north, people here live by their own traditional rules, honed by time and experience.

To outside eyes, Kasalgu was dealing with a murder. But no one here would call it that. They call it witchcraft.

Because it’s witchcraft, the chief and his elders are in charge. If the village believed it had a murder on its hands (which does happen), the police and the courts would have been called.

These two worlds provide the rules in Kasalgu, and knowing why one trumps the other isn’t clear to outsiders. So Diamond FM reporter Kizito Abagoami and I have come to speak with the chief’s brother to find out what happened.

Around a month ago, two young girls became sick and were sent to a clinic. One of them died. Following the death, a rumour swirled that a woman had poisoned them by putting pesticide in their porridge that day.

A mob formed to catch the now-labelled witch and they forced her from her home. She was flogged and taken to the chief.

The chief asked for evidence from the doctor who treated the girls, and the doctor said they were probably poisoned.

Then, the woman’s daughter, who was the one who prepared the porridge the day the two girls grew sick, confessed that her mother had told her to put pesticide in the food.

The chief considered this evidence, his brother told us.  He decided the appropriate punishment for this witchcraft was banishment, and the woman was sent out of Kasalgu with her youngest child.

Where do human rights fit in this situation – when the institutions that go hand in hand with their protection are not even considered legitimate

This entry was posted in Blog, Ghana, IYIP Rights Media Internships, Media Internships on by .

About James Munson

Learning the way the world works first-hand drives James Munson's passion for journalism. After graduating from the University of King’s College in 2008, he headed west to Denver to work for the Hill Times, where he finagled a ticket to hear Barack Obama accept the presidential candidacy. His impulse then lead him north to the Yukon News in Whitehorse, where he cut his teeth as an investigative reporter and feature writer. He won the 2010 Ma Murray award in environmental writing for a story about the premier’s hand in suppressing the advice of scientists who recommended protecting the Peel watershed from mining. He also exposed the premier’s negotiations to sell the Yukon’s public power utility in 2009. James and the premier are no longer speaking. His experience in northern Canada has prepared him for the rigours of Tamale in northern Ghana—he thrives on living in a strange places in strange times doing exhilarating work. He’s looking forward to working at Diamond FM where he hopes to focus his work on politics and governance issues.

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