An indigenous woman was burned alive at the stake in Paraguay after being accused of witchcraft and a 14-year-old girl only barely escaped a similar fate after being rescued by investigators from a remote village in the South American nation, a local prosecutor confirmed Wednesday.
Prosecutor Fany Aguilera said that members of the Mbya Guarani ethnic group tied 45-year-old Adolfina Ocampos to a wooden pole and shot arrows at her before they burned her alive. Ocampos was sentenced to death last week by the community's chief in Tahehyi, a village some 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of the capital, Asuncion. The date of the killing was unclear.
Aguilera has charged nine men in the village with first-degree murder, and they have already acknowledged killing the woman.
"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."
The state agency for the protection of indigenous peoples said in a statement Wednesday that "although the indigenous communities are ruled by customary law, their acts cannot violate the constitutional rights of respecting the life and the liberty of people."
According to at least one report from the Irish Mirror, another 14-year-old girl was also being held and tortured as an accused witch but was rescued from the village during the investigation.
Violence against witches and people of accused of being witches is a common problem in many societies across the globe.
A report by the UN Refugee Agency estimates that thousands of people worldwide are accused of being witches every year. The UN says they are often abused, cast out of their families and communities and sometimes killed.
Startling accounts of torture, starvation, abandonment and death have been documented,” states a research paper on the issue of witch hunts from the UN Refugee Agency entitled Witchcraft Allegations, Refugee Protection and Human Rights: a Review of the Evidence.
The 43-page report by the UN shows the rising concern over these modern day witch hunts and urges the need to raise public awareness “that the phenomenon of witch persecution is still very much alive,” so that “those in the refugee field may be better prepared to pre-empt or respond to the associated violence and provide protection as needed.”
While Latin America is not considered a hotspot for witchcraft or persecution against witchcraft in modern times, the report does mention specific incidents in places like Central American and Bolivia occurring in the last century, especially among the region’s indigenous communities.
“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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.