Accused Witch Burned at the Stake in Paraguay

After 45-year-old Adolfina Ocampos was sentenced to death for sorcery last November in the Paraguayan village of Tahenyi where they lived, she was tortured, submerged under water, and beaten.  She was then led to a stake where she was shot with several arrows before being burned alive.   Paraguayan authorities investigating the killing have arrested nine men in the village, all of whom have confessed to the killing and with little indication of remorse.   Police have also rescued a fourteen-year-old girl who was accused of witchcraft as well.

Ocampos had been accused of being a witch after the relatives of one of the village elders became ill.  She was then banished from the villiage for a month but was sentenced to death when the relative failed to improve.     The inhabitants of the village located 180  miles for the Paraguayan capital of Assuncion.are members of the indigenous Mbya Guarani community.  Belief in witchcraft and evil magic remains strong throughout the region. 

"I've been working in Paraguay for 40 years and I can't remember a similar episode of an execution for alleged sorcery," said José Zanardini, an Italian anthropologist and Catholic priest. "The tragic death of this woman is isolated and out of the ordinary within the coexistence of Paraguay's 20 ethnic indigenous groups. In general, the Indians are very peaceful and tolerant."   

Witchcraft accusations are on the rise in many parts of the world.  According to a 2009 UNHCR report titled Witchcraft Allegations, Refugee Protection and Human Rights: a Review of the Evidence, thousands of people are accused of witchcraft every year.   They are often subjected to starvation, torture, and lethal violence by families of witchcraft "victims".  "The phenomenon of witch persecution is still very much alive," says report author Jill Schnoebelen.  “Those in the refugee field may be better prepared to pre-empt or respond to the associated violence and provide protection as needed.”  

Incidents of witch-killings have occurred in other parts of Central and South America.   “In Bolivia, there are reports that alleged witches are burned or buried alive, particularly in ‘indigenous communities in areas with little or no central government presence,’” the report states. “Accused sorcerers have been killed by violent mobs in rural areas in both Guatemala and Haiti…About 80 cases of witchcraft were documented in a Zapotec village in Oaxaca, Mexico in the late 1960s.”

Witch killings are also commonly seen in India as well as many parts of the Middle East and Africa.  Many countries in eastern and central Africa operate "witch camps" where refugees driven out of their communities due to witchcraft accusations are forced to live.  Even in industrialized countries, accusations of witchcraft are not uncommon in immigrant commmunities and can also occur due to the influence of extremist religious groups.  The recent murder of Jacob Andrew Crockett in Oklahoma by someone who suspected him of sorcery demonstrates how widespread witch-killings have become.


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