KENYA NATIONAL COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Kisii, 5th November, 2021
Lynching of Elderly and Poor Women in Gusiiland
On 17th October 2021, four helpless elderly women from Mokona Village, Marani Ward in Kisii County were lynched on allegations of being witches. The four women (Sindege Mayaka, Jemima Nyang’ate Mironga, Sindege Nyakwara Masaku and Agnes Moraa Ototo) were suspected of having bewitched a form four student. According to police records, the student was unable to speak, prompting the villagers to initiate a process of identifying the alleged witches.
As the relatives and family members of the deceased prepare to lay to rest - tomorrow Saturday- the last three victims of the abominable, discriminatory, unjust, dehumanizing, and deeply oppressive act of mob lynching, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) wishes to state that Article 26 of the Constitution of Kenya under the Bill of Rights, guarantees all Kenyans the right to life. Therefore, no Kenyan should lose their life because of some ill-defined accusations like Witchcraft; which are difficult to prove in our courts of law.
Similarly, the Constitution in Article 40 provides that every person has the right either individually or jointly to acquire and own property of any description in any part of the country. This is also a universal right accorded to every individual and which the State must protect by all means. Further, Article 60 of the Constitution ensures equitable access to land and security. Nobody should therefore deny another person the right to ownership of property much worse through malicious allegations of witchcraft.
The Convention Against Torture and Other Inhuman Degrading Treatment or Punishment is also clear on prohibiting any form of torture which includes inflicting severe pain or suffering whether physical or mental on any person. This is a non-derogation right, which every individual is entitled to. Therefore, any criminal acts of illegal gangs that amount to torture and inhuman degrading treatment is a criminal offence for which severe punishment must follow.
The Kenya National Commission on Human rights notes that the lynching trend largely targets old and poor widows in Gusiiland. While some old men have been victims of the horrid practice of “witch burning” in Gusiiland, women – particularly poor, old widows - are predominantly targeted. The State through its duty bearers such as the local administration officers, Chiefs and law enforcement officers; must work and react with a sense of urgency and speed up investigations to stop this outlandish practice to ensure that protection, justice and redress is served. As a Commission we are calling for an urgent change of response mechanism, early warning signs and enhancing social protection systems for the vulnerable older persons.
Under Article 57, our Constitution obligates the State to take measures to ensure Older Persons' participation, personal development, dignity, respect and protection from abuse; and together with the family, the obligation to provide care and reasonable assistance to Older Persons. The Commission notes that these killings that have been occurring in Gusiiland for many decades now are NOT a tradition or cultural practice of the Abagusii people but are acts of extreme violence driven by greed, selfishness and misplaced notion by some elements that devalue girls’ and women’s lives. Traditionally, widows were protected from harm by the Abagusii people.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights is aware that Community training workshops in Gusiiland have been conducted to educate and inform people that the practice of witch lynching is a violation of the fundamental right to life. Residents admit that no form of alternative dispute resolution has been resorted to in order to avoid the lynching. Those who root for the lynching of witches argue that there is no victimization on those suspected of being witches since there are verification and identification processes carried out as evidence to confirm who a witch is before the lynching is done. The most common verification and identification process involves the so-called ‘spitting ritual’. This is totally uncalled for!
The Commission hails the Kisii County Governor for inaugurating a task force to establish the circumstances where poor and elderly persons are victimized and accused of witchcraft in the County which has become endemic. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights will be submitting its memorandum to the Taskforce.
In the interim, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights once again, want to reiterate the fact that when it comes to matters of human life and dignity, the buck stops with the State who is the primary duty-bearer. The State must ensure that relevant policies are formulated and that the Constitution is implemented to the letter and spirit and in a manner that enhances the enjoyment of adequate security to each and every individual. It is against the backdrop of the foregoing that the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights makes the following recommendations:
Dr. Bernard Mogesa, PhD, CPM
Secretary to The Commission/ Chief Executive Officer