Legal Aid Clinic Helps Acquit Ten Women of Witchcraft in CAR

Women accused of witchcraft sit in a holding cell in the Central African Republic
A group of women are accused of practicing witchcraft and
are detained by police in Ndangala, Central African Republic.
In September 2017, an elderly woman fell ill in Ndangala, Central African Republic (CAR). Her family and friends advised her to seek healing through a church prayer group, but she died of her illness shortly thereafter. The pastor of the prayer group told members the woman had confessed to being a “sorcerer,” setting-off a witch hunt in which 10 women were seized and brought to the village chief to be publicly executed. As word of the incident spread, a former beneficiary of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI) legal aid clinic in Bimbo contacted clinic staff, who dispatched an ABA ROLI attorney and informed the local gendarmerie, which managed to rescue the women from the threatening crowd. The women were brought to trial and, with the assistance of the ABA ROLI attorney, were acquitted of all charges.

For many Central Africans, witches and sorcerers are believed to be a cause of national strife and underdevelopment. They provide a source of blame for the problems citizens face within their communities. Accusations are so common that witchcraft is included in the Central African Penal Code, allowing the state judicial system to intervene and enforce a formal legal process on a belief system founded in rumor and fear.

"I was surprised by this accusation,” said Marie Danielle, one of the 10 women accused. “A crowd of people came to my door screaming to kill me, and dragged me by force to Chief Armand. The gendarmerie intervened to save me (and) three days later the ABA lawyers came to assist us throughout the legal process. Because of their intervention, I am free (and) I returned to Ndangala without any fear of threats."

In most communities in CAR, legal services are inaccessible and citizens lack trust in the justice system. In such circumstances, family and community mediation serve as common and trusted means to resolve disputes. Though mediation is often effective, in this case, ABA ROLI’s legal aid clinic bridged a divide between the community and the justice system.