The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has expressed grave concern over revelations that witch-finders in Kaputa District have engaged in serious human rights abuses working with some traditional leaders and their subjects.
Northern Province Commissioner of Police Mr. Richard Mweene disclosed to HRC the rampant abuse of human rights by witch-finders in Kaputa yesterday when HRC Commissioner Yuyo Kambikambi paid a courtesy call on him.
Mr. Mweene noted that there is strong belief in witchcraft among residents of Kaputa and incidences of hiring witch finders to know the cause of one’s death or illness are prevalent.
“The hired witch-finders extort fines from subjects who they suspect are practising witchcraft in form money and valuable property and traditional leaders do not seem to care”, he stated. “Some suspects are whipped, enslaved or victimised”.
Mr. Mweene expressed particular concern that it was mostly the elderly who were targeted and abused on suspicions of witcraft because of their advanced age.
Commenting on revelations made by Northern Province Commissioner of Police, HRC Commissioner Yuyo Kambikambi stressed the need to ensure protection of those being targeted on witchcraft suspicions from abuse of human rights, exploitation and cruel or degrading treatment.
“Many violations can occur to those who are suspected practising witchcraft, including destruction of property, loss of life and eviction from the very areas where they live and, as such they need to be protected by the law”, she said.
It is an offence under the Witchcraft Act CAP 90 of the Laws of Zambia to conduct witch finding sessions, let alone to name anyone as a witch or wizard. The offence is punishable by imprisonment if one is found guilty.
Commissioner Kambikambi appealed to traditional leaders as custodians of the Zambian traditions and customs to take the lead in discouraging practices such as witch-finding which are against the law and repugnant to human rights norms. She also called on the Zambia Police Service to join forces with the Human Rights Commission in sensitising the communities in Kaputa and other parts of Northern Province about the need to respect human rights and the law prohibiting witchcraft.
Commissioner Kambikambi was pleased to note that attempts were being made by the Provincial Command to transform the Police from a Force to a Service through continuous and professional training of police officers in basic principles of human rights and law enforcement. She reiterated the need for the Police to observe the highest standards of professionalism and use non-violent means in carrying out policing duties as now it is a Service.
The HRC delegation led by Commissioner Kambikambi visited Northern Province as part of its efforts to engage various stakeholders in order to build partnerships necessary for the promotion and protection of human rights in Zambia.