Human Rights Commission Engages Chiefdom Stakeholders on Witchcraft

The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, on Monday May 2, held a strategic engagement with chiefdom authorities and other stakeholders in Safroko Limba Chiefdom – Binkolo on the human rights based approach to handling suspects of sorcery and witchcraft.
HRCSL has the legal mandate to receive and investigate complaints of human rights violations and promote respect for human rights through various means including public awareness and education programmes aimed at creating a culture of human rights in Sierra Leone.
In early 2015, the northern region office of HRCSL received a complaint from the relative of a victim who had suffered banishment and forced Labour in Binkolo Town, Safroko Limba Chiefdom, Bombali district.
A successful investigation and mediation effort by the northern region office resulted in the reinstatement of the victim into the community. However, the prevalence of such human rights unfriendly acts in the chiefdom means that there is likelihood of its recurrence. In order to prevent further occurrence of such acts in the chiefdom, it was imperative that the HRCSL engaged the local authorities on the implications of such human rights violations.
"This engagement will be the first of series of engagement that the Commission will have with local authorities in different communities on related issues. HRCSL took the decision to embark on this engagement as a result of several complaints received on the violation of the rights of persons accused of sorcery and witchcraft" said Brima A. Sheriff, chairperson of HRCSL.
Brima Sheriff also cautioned the community stakeholders to control their emotions when accusations are made against somebody for indulging in sorcery or witchcraft. He also warned them to discourage the act of mob justice against alleged sorcerers which is against the law.
Paramount Chief Alimamy Dura Turay of Safroko Chiefdom accepted the fact that the practice of sorcery and witchcraft were the most crucial issues faced in their chiefdoms. He mentioned that his chiefdom had dealt with several cases of sorcery and witchcraft but stressed that "In most cases it is not that the chiefs will tell them (accused witches) to leave the villages or chiefdoms”. “One thing we do is to protect the accused," he said.
The State Counsel, Yusufu Koroma gave exquisite examples when he was the Customary Law Officer wholly dealing with allegations of sorcery and witchcraft. He revealed that sorcery was part of the customary law but that people uses it in both positive and negative way. He further said the 1965 law against sorcery was amended to the Fangay Act regulating the practice of sorcery.
The State Counsel explained that the maximum sentence if found guilty for the practice of sorcery is one year imprisonment. He revealed that he had drafted a precedent law of sorcery for the police stations in Makeni and Magburaka to follow. A short drama highlighting the presumption of the accused until proved guilty and also the practices of human rights standards in dealing with suspects was performed by staff of HRCSL.
The Director of Complaints, Investigations and Legal Services of HRCSL, Doris Sonsiama explained to the participants about the human rights implications in dealing with suspects, and also the laws in place to deal with witchcraft and sorcery.
The Chiefdom people also gave their contributions and made commitments in the implementation of human rights standards in a session that was facilitated by the vice chairperson of HRCSL, Daphne Olu Williams.

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