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Thousands of women have been killed over the last 2 decades after being denounced as witches
by Kizito Makoye
Thomson Reuters Foundation
July 31, 2017
Five women accused of being witches and murdered by a mob last week were among some 80 people killed each month in Tanzania this year by vigilantes taking the law into their own hands, a report said Monday.
Thousands of elderly Tanzanian women have been strangled, knifed to death and burned alive over the last two decades after being denounced as witches.
The report published by the Dar es Salaam-based rights group Legal and Human Rights Centre showed 479 deaths related to mob justice reported in Tanzania from January to June this year, including women accused of witchcraft.
Helen Kijo-Bisimba, the centre''s executive director, said human rights abuses had risen in the past year, which she blamed partly on restrictions on freedoms following President John Magufuli''s order to ban political activities until 2020.
Belief in witchcraft in the East African country dates back centuries as a way of explaining common misfortunes like death, failed harvests and infertility.
According to the report, most of the lynching incidents happened in the main city and commercial hub, Dar es Salaam, and in Mbeya region in the southern highlands where superstitious beliefs are strongly held.
"While 117 deaths have been reported to have occurred in Dar (this year), Mbeya sits second with 33 people lynched followed by Mara with 28 deaths and Geita with 26 deaths," she said at the report''s launch in Dar es Salaam.
The report comes a week after police in the western Tabora region launched a hunt for the suspected killers of five women in Undomo village. The women were accused of being witches, beaten to death and their bodies burned, police said.
Wilbroad Mtafungwa, Tabora regional police commander, said vigilante killings related to witchcraft were on the rise in the region.
"We have launched a manhunt and so far several suspects have been arrested, but the investigations are on-going," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Human rights groups have condemned the rising wave of "witch killings" and complained there have been few prosecutions - causing anxiety among elderly women living in rural villages.
"Such incidents must be strongly condemned. We still need to educate people who harbour outdated beliefs to think that women are always behind witchcraft," Bisimba told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the launch.

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Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights
by ONODC, Fortify Rights, agencies
30 July 2017
Human Trafficking. (UNODC)
Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, many thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad.
Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.
Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Children make up almost one-third of all human trafficking victims worldwide, according to the latest report on trafficking. In addition, women and girls comprise 71 per cent of human trafficking victims.
Bangkok, July 20, 2017
Thai general, politicians, police among 62 found guilty in historic human trafficking trial. (Fortify Rights, agencies)
A Criminal Court in Thailand yesterday sentenced 62 defendants, including senior government officials, to up to 94 years’ imprisonment for crimes including trafficking and murdering Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladeshis in 2015.
These verdicts mark a step forward for Thailand’s efforts to combat human trafficking, but authorities should reopen the investigation into the trafficking of tens of thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis from 2012 to 2015, said Fortify Rights.
“This judgment is a milepost for Thai authorities and we hope it sends a shockwave to criminal syndicates and complicit institutions in the country,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “More needs to be done to account for the horrific crimes that took place in Thailand over the last few years and to ensure this never happens again.”
The Criminal Court Division for Human Trafficking in Bangkok convicted 62 defendants of crimes including human trafficking, transnational organized crime, conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, beatings, coercion, holding people for ransom, and carrying weapons unlawfully. Sentences ranged from 4 to 94 years’ imprisonment.
The Court doubled the sentences of defendants who were government officials or members of a transnational organized criminal network as well as defendants who committed crimes against children or with more than three people. However, the court reduced the sentences of those who received more than 50 years’ imprisonment to 50 years in accordance with section 91(3) of Thailand’s Criminal Code.
Those convicted include senior Thai government and military officials. The Court sentenced senior military officer of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 Lieutenant-General Manas Kongpan to 27 years’ imprisonment; the former Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Padang Besar, Bannajong Pongphol and Prasit Lemleh, to 78 years’ imprisonment, and the former Provincial Administrative Officer of Satun Province Pajuban Aungchotiphan (also known as “Ko Tong”) to 75 years’ imprisonment.
The trial revolved around the Thai authorities’ discovery of a mass-grave site containing 36 bodies in a hillside jungle location in Songkhla Province on May 1, 2015.
Dozens of Rohingya and Bangladeshi survivors and eyewitnesses described to Fortify Rights several undiscovered mass-grave sites believed to be in Thailand and Malaysia.
“Thai authorities shouldn’t sweep undiscovered mass graves under the rug of this trial,” said Amy Smith. “We documented a massive operation that trafficked tens of thousands of Rohingya during a three-year period. The loss of life was significantly more than the focus of this trial.”
From at least 2012 to 2015, transnational criminal syndicates and complicit Thai authorities held captive, at any given time, several thousand Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi nationals in illicit “torture camps” in conditions of enslavement, depriving them of adequate food, water, and shelter, and beating and sometimes killing victims.
Alleged members of human trafficking syndicates who preyed on Rohingya and others in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia have not been held to account, Fortify Rights said.
Fortify Rights calls on the Thai authorities to reopen the investigation into the mass human trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladeshis in Thailand that occurred between 2012 to 2015 and to provide adequate resources to ensure the investigation is complete, independent, and effective.
Thai authorities should also conduct a thorough assessment of this trial to ensure shortcomings are remedied, perpetrators of harassment and intimidation of witnesses and others are held to account, and lessons are learned for future cases.
Fortify Rights’ monitored the trial and revealed it was beset by unchecked threats against witnesses, interpreters, and police investigators. Threats against the chief investigator, Major General Paween Pongsirin, caused him to flee Thailand just one month after the trial commenced. Thai authorities also arbitrarily detained Rohingya witnesses, some of whom were physically assaulted.
Following the investigation into the trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, the Thai authorities issued 153 arrest warrants; however, 50 individuals named in arrest warrants remain unaccounted for. The trial commenced in October 2015 and concluded in February 2017 after hearing testimony from 98 prosecution witnesses, including children, and 111 defense witnesses and reviewing more than 1,800 evidentiary documents. One defendant died during the trial.
“Thailand has an opportunity to use this momentum to stamp out the scourge of trafficking,” said Amy Smith. “This trial was a step in the right direction, but sadly, this case is far from closed.”
Sunai Phasuk, senior Thai researcher for Human Rights Watch, expressed hope that the trial''s outcome would help crack down the networks.
"The fact that there are very senior officials charged with this crime will help deter criminals in trafficking networks in the future," said Mr Sunai, who observed the court proceedings.
* Last month the US State Department left Thailand on a Tier 2 Watchlist, just above the lowest ranking of Tier 3, in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, because it believes the country did not do enough to tackle human smuggling and trafficking.
* Access the link below to read stories from survivors of human trafficking discussing how they were raped, abused and exploited as they became 21st century slaves.

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