Concerns over impunity for witchcraft accusations based killings
The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), with financial support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy, are currently working in 20 Traditional Authorities in 10 districts across the country to address violence based on witchcraft accusations through awareness raising, advocacy, capacity building and systematic human rights monitoring, documentation and reporting. However, one of the biggest challenges we are facing is the continued lack of accountability for attacks on people accused of witchcraft. We believe this impunity is one of the factors that are perpetuating these attacks. In international human rights law, impunity refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.
In the last two years alone, CHRR and CEDEP have documented over 60 cases of killings based on witchcraft accusations. Even though there have been some arrests, no one has been prosecuted for these crimes. We also note that despite the seriousness of these abuses, there is no robust state led response. Currently, no normative framework or formal mechanism exists to respond to
such violations. We believe this institutional failure is one of the factors perpetuating these attacks.
Some of the recent cases we have documented include the following:
- The case of Mike Hauli Mwaighogha in Karonga. The 49-year-old man was beaten and burnt to death on 16 August 2021 in Malema 2 Village in the area of Paramount Chief Kyungu in Karonga district on suspicion that he had killed his brother through magic. Out of the 10 suspects arrested, 7 have been committed to Mzuzu Prison on remand.
- The case of Edison Kalumbu in Salima. The 60-year-old man was killed in Chikombe Village in the area of Traditional Authority Makanjira in Salima district on suspicion that he had a hand in the mysterious disappearance of a woman in the village. Mr Kalumbu was among three people named by a witchdoctor as being responsible for her disappearance. The woman’s body was later found in a nearby river. According to police, the wounds on her body suggested she had been attacked by a crocodile.
- The case of Esnala Mbowe in Karonga. The 67-year-old woman was beaten and later burnt to death in Karonga on suspicion she had killed her son through witchcraft. The son had been sick for some time and died on 24 December 2020 from his illness. Some villagers alleged that his mother, Esnala, was responsible for his death. The villagers mobilised themselves and committed the heinous act. When we followed up with police in January this year, we were informed that investigations were underway to arrest all the suspects but up to now there is no update on whether the arrests were made and when the suspects would be taken to court to face justice.
- The case of Filinesi Mulenga in Chitipa. Filiness, who hailed from Mwaulambia in Chitipa district, was beaten to death on January 11, 2020 on suspicion that she had killed her daughter through witchcraft. Investigations were carried out by Police, which resulted in the arrests of 2 suspects, Menson Mtambo (aged 20) and Sanold Kanyika (aged 25). Some of the suspects are remanded at Chitipa Prison. According to information we have from the police, the file was submitted to the office of the DPP for perusal and directives but the case has still not proceeded to trial.
- The case of Alick Mhango Mwankhunikira in Rumphi. On 15 June 2020, the victim was killed by angry villagers who accused him of bewitching his elder brother’s wife, Ella Mhango, who died on 15 June 2020 at Lusimbo in the district. Investigations were carried out by police which resulted in the arrest of 4 suspects, namely John Mhango (aged 21); Tafadwala Msiska (aged 41); Kenani Mhango (aged 33) and Sandres Msiska (aged 28). The suspects are remanded at Rumphi Prison. When we checked with the police early this year regarding progress of this case, we were informed that a file was being prepared for submission to the office of the DPP for perusal and directives.
- The case of Namalunga Tisauke PhirI in Dedza district. On 28 December 2019, Namalunga was stoned to death on suspicion that she had killed her sister in-law through witchcraft. Hospital records showed she had succumbed to malaria. Police investigations led to the arrest of 3 suspects namely Isaac Gwirize (aged 52), Benson Lemani (aged 29) and Grace Lemani (aged 30). The suspects were remanded at Dedza Prison and the last time we checked with the police, we were informed that a file was being prepared for submission to the DPP for perusal and directives.
- The case of Village Headman Kachiwaya in Dowa. The 56-year old victim, who hailed from Kachiwaya Village in T/A Chiwere in Dowa district, was severely assaulted and burnt alive by villagers who accused him of bewitching his nephew who on 18 May 2020 was involved in a fatal road accident. Investigations were carried out by Police and resulted in the arrest of 8 people. All suspects have been remanded at Maula Prison. The last time we checked with the police, we were informed that a file was being prepared for submission to the DPP for perusal and directives.
- The case of Jenala Chidzele in Dowa. The victim was beaten to death by villagers from Kachiwaya Village in relation to the case above. Investigations were carried out by police, which resulted in the arrest of 5 people namely, John Chimbalu (aged 30); Speed Chinkute (aged 26); David Nkute (aged 26); Christian Malinda (aged 34); Chinkonda Makonyola. All suspects were remanded at Maula Prison and a file was submitted to the office of the DPP for perusal and directives.
- The case of Stella Chigule. The 7-year-old woman was stoned to death in Fumbwa Village in the area of T/A Tambala in Dedza in October 2020 on suspicion that she was involved in witchcraft. When we followed up the issue with the Police early last year, we were informed that two arrests had been made but up to now there is no update on the status of the case, especially with regard to prosecution of the alleged perpetrators.
These attacks are fuelled by a culture of impunity and Malawian authorities must swiftly move to bring suspected perpetrators of these crimes to justice in fair trials. As human rights organisations, we are dismayed by the lack of progress by police and prosecuting authorities in taking these cases forward to trial. Our organizations have previously raised concerns with responsible authorities on these issues, but apparently there is no change. Justice delayed is justice denied.