Witchcraft Accusations as Gendered Persecution in Refugee Law

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Social and Legal Studies, 2019, 28 (2), pp. 202 - 226
Issue Date:
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© The Author(s) 2018. Witchcraft-related violence (WRV), in particular directed towards women and children, has become a source of increasing concern for human rights organizations in the current century. Yet for those fleeing WRV, this heightened attention has not translated across into refugee status. This research examines how claims of WRV were addressed in all available asylum decisions in English, drawn from five jurisdictions. We argue that WRV is a manifestation of gender-related harm; one which exposes major failings in the application of refugee jurisprudence. Inattention to the religious and organizational elements of witchcraft practices, combined with gender insensitivity in analysis, meant that claims were frequently reconfigured by decision makers as personal grudges, or family or community disputes, such that they were not cognizable harms within the terms of the Refugee Convention; or they were simply disbelieved as far-fetched. The success rate of claims was low, compared to available averages, and, when successful, claims were universally accepted on some basis other than the witchcraft element of the case. This article focuses in particular upon cases where the applicant feared harm as an accused witch, while a second related article addresses those fearing persecution from witches or through the medium of witchcraft.
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