Should we be surprised that Human Sacrifice, Slavery, and Cannibalism are Prevalent All Over Africa, today in late 2013? In Colonial Mexico and Central America, after the Spanish Conquest, there is good evidence that Human Sacrifice persisted in many rural areas for at least 200 years after the Spanish Conquest despite continual Spanish Rule and the violent and often brutal suppression of the Native Mesoamerican priesthood, the tragic burning of ancient libraries, and the systematic destruction of temples. There are many parallels between the practices of Human Sacrifice, Cannibalism, and Slavery in Africa and Mesoamerica, as Sir James G. Frazer noted in the Golden Bough, and as in fact was apparent even to the Spanish Conquistadors themselves, as in for example the writings of Bernal Diaz del Castillo.
Child sacrifice, reported as widespread and common in Africa up through the present day (and even as a “thriving commercial business” in Uganda and Nigeria), was common among the prehispanic Mesoamericans. There are relics surviving at least until the 1980s (by my own personal observations) of the importance of live children “bound with ropes and croaking like frogs” under the table of the Cha-Chaac, the modern Yucatec Maya Rain Ceremony, during years following the discovery of massive offerings of childrens’ skeletons under the altar of Tlaloc (the Aztec raingod) in the Templo Mayor excavations of Aztec Tenochtitlan in the heart of Mexico City. Habitual child sacrifice was recorded at least as far north as among the Natchez of the Mississippi Valley up through the final obliteration and extermination of the Natchez by the French in the late 1720s. Vestiges of Child Sacrifice (including the Sacrifice of adult children, such as the sons of the Kings of Israel and Judah who were made to “walk through the fire” in the Books of Chronicles and Kings) occur throughout the Bible, and legends of Jewish cannibalism of children are part of the “blood libel” that persisted at least through 15th century throughout Europe (consider the story of “Little St. Hugh” of Lincoln, which was one of many stories which led to the expulsion of the Jews from England in the 1320s. (I had an uncle named “Hugh”, who now counts among the “Faithful Departed”). As highly prejudicial and undocumented as the charges against Mediaeval European Jewry may be, the archaeological evidence recovered at by Harvard archaeologists at Carthage in Tunisia and by many excavations throughout Syria and Lebanon all document the ubiquity of child sacrifice among the Phoenicians (most closely related by their alphabet and other customs to the Israelites) and all other Western Semitic peoples of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Whether this heritage could support the legendary evidence that the Jews carried child sacrifice with them after the diaspora into Western Europe is, without archaeological evidence, a matter of mere conjecture.
Leaving Aside Slavery and Cannibalism, and considering only Human Sacrifice and Ritual Killing (including child sacrifice throughout Africa, and leaving aside the highly controversial questions of racially or politically motivated murders in, for example, Liberia, Sierra Leon, and above all in post-Apartheid South Africa, as of fourteen months ago, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights made this rather timid, cautious, almost apologetic report, allowing as how human sacrifice might violate the UN Charters on Individual Human Rights even if it infringes on the rights to freedom of religion and exercise of human conscience: http://hrbrief.org/2012/09/the-practice-of-ritual-killings-and-human-sacrifice-in-africa/
The Practice of Ritual Killings and Human Sacrifice in Africa
Despite the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights’ that provides an individual is entitled to respect for his life and integrity of his person, ritual killings and the practice of human sacrifice continue in several African countries. These practices entail the hunting down, mutilation, and murder of the most vulnerable people in society**, including people with disabilities, women, and children. Reports indicate that killings of this nature occur in Nigeria, Uganda, Swaziland, Liberia, Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Because of the secrecy involved in ritual sacrifices, a majority of these incidents go unreported and uninvestigated. Anti-sacrifice advocates face an uphill battle in combating these rituals because the practices are largely denied and touch on cultural underpinnings, resulting in an ideological conflict between protection of human rights and respect for the beliefs and practices of other cultures.
Those who practice sacrifice and ritual killings believe them to be acts of spiritual fortification. Motivations to carry out these acts include the use of human body parts for medicinal purposes and the belief that human body parts possess supernatural powers that bring prosperity and protection. In Uganda, reports indicate that child sacrifice is a business where the wealthy pay witch doctors to conduct sacrifices in an effort to expand their fortunes. In Swaziland and Liberia, politicians allegedly commission ritual killings to improve their odds in elections. In parts of South Africa, ritual killings are culturally accepted, and the practice is often not reported by community members.
Questions of cultural relativism may arise with respect to ritual killings because they may be linked with religious beliefs. Article 8 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion. The article also states that “No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.” While a broad reading of Article 8 guaranteeing the right to religious freedom could theoretically permit ritual killings for religious reasons, the “subject to law and order” clause may be invoked to limit the free practice of religion with respect to ritual killings. Furthermore, reading the Charter in its entirety supports a prohibition on ritual killings. For instance, Article 5 states that every individual shall be “entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person.” If ritual killings were permitted as an acceptable exercise of religious freedom, the door is opened to many of potential human rights violations on the basis of religion.
In response to recent reports of ritual killings allegedly conducted by some traditional healers, other healers have spoken out against ritual killings, arguing that those practices are a disgrace to the history and culture of African medicine men and healers. In March 2012, Sierra Leone’s union of traditional healers met to put forward their campaign against ritual killings. Since the union’s founding in 2008, their mandate has always been to stop indiscriminate killings and afflictions of the innocent.
Activists rallying against ritual killings are calling for stronger protections, including legislation that would allow for the regulation of traditional healers. Some countries, such as Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria have taken steps to begin regulate traditional healers, but regulation is not widespread. Appropriately regulating traditional healers could provide necessary protection for individuals seeking care from traditional healers and could hold healers accountable for unlawful acts, such as ritual killings. Furthermore, regulation could provide protection for traditional healers, for example, with respect to intellectual property rights.
As they have done for centuries, traditional healers continue to fulfill an important role of providing beneficial medical services to communities. However, the practice of ritual killings and human sacrifice goes against the fundamental human rights norm of ensuring respect for an individual’s life and integrity of person. Although the African Charter guarantees the right to freely practice one’s religion, ritual killings are not permissible on this basis. The positive contributions of traditional healers to many African societies should not be compromised by the practice of ritual killings. Activists and governments can ensure respect for the human rights of all individuals by working to ensure transparency and accountability among traditional healers.
**CEL III Note Added: is it even worth mentioning that the minority Whites in post-Apartheid South Africa, not to mention any whites foolish enough to remain in Zimbabwe or Namibia, are among the most vulnerable members of society?