It is not an uncommon feature to see that women and children in different places of our world being subjected to all forms of abuses. Usually, their male counterparts do not face the same kind or level of abuses. One common area where such abuses are clearly seen is in the performance of cultural practices and customs. Apparently, belief in the existence and activities of witches is prevalent among Africans and this belief is usually accompanied with various accusations, physical abuses as well as emotional tortures. These abuses and maltreatments have human rights implications that is looked at critically. Many women who are unable to bear these accusations and abuses escape the punishment of community folks and flee to established witch camps that are meant to protect and sustain their lives. However, these camps are unable to ensure the protection of their human rights. For the most, it is religious groups and communities who successfully support them as they live at the camp. The study practically examines how various accusations, abuses as well as life at the witch camp have human rights implications, and attempt to suggest various ways through which the rights of these inmates may be protected. This study was conducted by employing methods of analysis such as questionnaire, interviews, photographs, on site seeing and note taking as well as literature from relevant sources. The study contributes to the pool of knowledge which reveals that religious institutions, rather than the government, have been instrumental in providing, promoting and preserving the rights of the accused witches at the Gambaga witch camp.

Among many people, religion has been viewed by secular institutions and scholars as being arguably, the problem in development of human rights.1 Today, several philosophers and scholars have added their voice to the debate that religion may rather be a tool that would foster human rights development in our societies.2 Now than ever, there is an increasing appreciation of the special contributions that religious beliefs, as well as religious institutions would bring to the forefront in developing human rights in our world.3

Human right abuses permeate all countries and continents of the world. That is, although the focus of this work is related to Northern Ghana, it is not only women and children who are in Ghana or Africa, for example, who have had their rights trampled upon.4 In the Gambaga witchcamp of Northern Ghana, many women and children are camped there because they have been accused of witchcraft. Before these women and children are brought to the camp, they are subjected to all kinds of maltreatment. Many of these victims are insulted, stoned or tortured. Sometimes, it is the fear of dying in the community that propels them to seek refuge at the witch camp. Such activities performed by members of the community have human right implications that need to be looked at critically.6

Religious traditions and customs in African societies have played a role in infringing the rights of women and children.7 Such traditions include witchcraft accusations and the establishment of witchcamps. The numerous accusations and abuses these women go through have human right implications. These accused women suffer verbal abuse, physical torture and emotional pains. They are often humiliated and insulted. Unfortunately, many who could not make it to these established witch camps have been burned and strangled to death.8 As stated, the Gambaga witch camp in the Northern Region of Ghana was established over hundred years ago for women who were accused of being witches. This witch camp was established to serve as refuge for these accused witches.

At the witch camp, these accused witches still suffer certain forms of discrimination. In the community, they are often stigmatized and relegated to the background. As a result, they cannot freely involve themselves and relate with the people of Gambaga. Such women and children often find it difficult to freely move, freely associate with other people, or freely participate in the general activities of the community.

Women and children who have lived all their lives at the camp are not given certain opportunities and privileges like the others. There are no adequate educational facilities such as schools and medical facilities like hospitals or clinics to cater for them. Victims have no available institution to seek redress when they receive maltreatment from people in the community. These situations often mar the human dignity, and rights of women and children at the camp.10

When a woman is accused of being a witch in a given community (especially Northern Ghana), she is threatened to be punished unless she confesses her misdeeds. Mostly, particular women are accused when unfortunate incidents begin to plague their families, friends or even neighborhood. Usually, these women will be subjected to beatings, torture, insults and other forms of abuse in the community. Being accused, these alleged witches ran away to the Gambaga witch camp quickly for fear of punishment and sudden death.

These alleged witches at the camp find it difficult to relate freely with other people in the community. They are often jeered at, mocked at and overly humiliated. Such stigma makes it difficult for these accused women and children to feel their worth and dignity in the community. These women lack proper educational facilities for themselves and their children. The medical services and facilities at the camp are inadequate to cater for their health needs. The accused witches find it difficult to get effective platform to seek redress when they are maltreated.

Such actions and inactions of some members of the community towards the accused witches have human right implications. As a result of such abuses, their dignity and freedoms are not assured. The problem this thesis seeks to address is, how the human rights of women and children accused of witchcraft and have taken refuge in witch-camps in Ghana may be protected. The Gambaga witch camp is used as a case-study.

The main question this thesis sought to answer has been:

To what extent can the accused witches in witch camps in Ghana have their human rights protected? In order to deal comprehensively with the issues involved, the following sub- question was also raised:

In which ways is the situation of the accused witches in the witch-camps in Ghana a human rights issue?

The primary objective of this study is to establish how the confinement of women and children accused of witchcraft in witch-camps in Ghana may be regarded a human rights issue. Related to this objective is to recommend ways in which the human rights of the inmates of these camps may be protected.

Qualitative method of researching was employed for this research work. By this, we conducted in- depth interviews with fifteen accused witches at the Gambaga camp. Key religious persons in the community such as the pastor of Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Gambaga and his Catechist were interviewed. The chief Imam of Gambaga community was also interviewed and the Gambag-rana (Chief of Gambaga) was as well interviewed. Data was collected from both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources of data collection included various interviews and field findings. Secondary sources of collecting data included related information in books, internet sources, magazines, as well as journal articles.

Again, we employed descriptive analysis when we were interpreting various interviews. Some pictures were taken in order to give a comprehensive view of the Gambaga witch camp, the inmates who were interviewed, the leaders of the various religious groups as well as on-going projects that would help improve their lives and wellbeing.

In the discourse of religion and human rights, there is a need to have a newer look at the human rights issues prevailing at the Gambaga witch camp. This knowledge will help us find out what the current state of the accused witches are on one hand, and how their freedoms can be promoted on the other hand. Again, this work is relevant because it can provide essential information for human rights activists, opinion leaders, religious leaders as well as government machinery in appreciating prevailing human rights issues in Gambaga area.

When people are accused of being witches in the community, they are often manhandled and subjected to various forms of brutalities. Many of these women have sustained fatal injuries on their bodies. Few have died as a result of the fatal beatings they received. Women and children who are accused have the right to life, and security. They must not undergo any physical harassment and torture because of these accusations. Alleged witches who survive or escape these painful practices move out (willingly or unwillingly) from their communities and flee to the Gambaga witch camp. This witchcamp has served as refuge for accused women who might have as well been dead if they hesitated on coming to the witch camp.

The accused witches who managed to seek refuge at the camp are not able to associate themselves freely with other people in the Gambaga community. They are often scandalized and stigmatized in the community. The social amenities and facilities that are available at the camp do not adequately promote their basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical needs as well as educational needs are insufficient. All these situations are human rights issues. The Gambaga witch camp area is a typical example of an environment that have prevailing human rights issues against women and children.

Gambaga is a small town located 150km north of Tamale in (Northern Region of) Ghana.11 The three northern regions of Ghana- Upper East, Upper West and Northern Region- are said to be the poorest regions of Ghana in terms of standard of living and economic development.12 The economic activities of the men are stone quarrying, farming and trading. Most of the women engage in small scale farming and trading. Because of the high poverty levels, inadequate medical facilities as well as massive unemployment, hardships such as infant and maternal mortality, outbreak of sicknesses and sudden deaths are on the rise.13

The Gambaga witchcamp is an isolated community within the Gambaga Township in the Northern Region of Ghana. It is believed to have been established in the 18th century in an attempt to provide shelter for women who were accused of being witches.14 Thus, when an accused witch was banished from the community, she would have to go to the witchcamp as her only safe and available destination.15 There are more than 100 alleged witches in the witchcamp.16 Most of these women are widows. It is believed that they used their witchcraft powers to kill their husbands. Others are accused of bringing misfortunes such as diseases, loss of property as well as accidents upon their relatives. These women and children suffer many injustices from the hands of relatives and neighbors when they have been accused of witchcraft. Staying at the camp is ‘safe’ for them although little essential services are found there.

The indigenous language of the people posed a challenge in our research work. As a result, we needed the services of an interpreter. He served as a channel for us, and the accused witches in our interview. Again, he interpreted certain scenes we observed at the camp to our understanding. This thesis is under the interplay between religion and human rights. However, such an area is too broad to be covered. So the focus of this thesis is to identify how women and children who have been accused of witchcraft and have taken refuge in witchcamps may be protected.

Chapter One of the dissertation included the General Introduction, Background of the Study, Statement of the Problem, Research Question, Research Objective, Research Unit and Location as well as the Literature Review. Chapter Two discussed the belief and practice of witchcraft in African religions. Chapter Three discussed Gambaga witchcamp and its related human rights issues. In Chapter Four, we collected and analyzed relevant data that has been received through field research and interviews. Chapter Five closed the dissertation by providing the summary, recommendation, and conclusion of the whole work.

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Item Type: Ghanaian Topic  |  Size: 123 pages  |  Chapters: 1-5
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