Laws needed to tackle PNG ‘sorcery’ killings: Amnesty

25 Jul 2011, Radio

In Papua New Guinea there have been calls for new laws to deal with sorcery-related killings, following the deaths of three women.
Last week, Papua New Guinea police say three women were abducted outside Port Moresby and were tortured and strangled by their captors.

It’s believed the women were attacked after they were accused of using sorcery to kill a businessman, who died in a car accident.

Police commander Joseph Tondop has called for a review to consider introducing tougher penalties to deal with these crimes.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Speaker: Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director

GUEST: In 2008 there were 50 sorcerer related killings just in two provinces. Of course it’s very difficult to know the true number, particularly in these remote areas. In 2009 there was an estimate of 200 alone in one province. So this is an ongoing problem. Of course it’s really hit the news now because it’s happened in the capital Port Moresby, and so it’s getting more exposure. But we’ve been following this for a number of years now.

COONEY: I take it’s something that the authorities are aware of and it’s obviously something they’re concerned about, does it take something to happen in the capital as you mentioned for them to start taking it seriously or deal with it seriously?

GUEST: Well I certainly hope so, certainly the depth of the three women who were accused of arranging the death of a businessman, who in fact died according to reports in a car accident, were killed most brutally and tortured ahead of time it’s very worrying. And not only do we believe that the law needs to be reformed, but also the police and the Public Prosecution office need to do much more to prevent and prosecute what is really vigilante violence. These are killings of people who are accused of sorcery and death. Sometimes they’re accidents, but other times people who die of HIV related causes then it’s a mysterious thing to some people and so others are accused of putting a spell on them. And of course there needs to be more education about the true nature of what the cause of HIV is, what the cause of these deaths are. So that’s one that we believe. But another concern is that many of the killings have been of women, not exclusively, but they seem to be more likely to be targeted. And this is in the larger pattern of violence against women in PNG, very high rates both sexual and physical violence.

COONEY: Is there perhaps a concern that this has perhaps been used as an excuse, I think it would seem pretty clear perhaps it is, that it’s an excuse being used for violence or perhaps justified violence that has been taking place against women there?

GUEST: It’s not impossible again, but we regard it as vigilante violence, so we think more needs to be done to raise awareness about the ways in which people can legitimately seek justice and the police need to be trained and probably need to be beefed up so that they can tackle these sorts of crimes. And indeed tackle the crimes of violence against women, which happens not only in the domestic sphere, but police themselves sometimes rape women who are in custody. So this is a widespread problem in the country.

COONEY: What has been the response previous to this when this issue has been raised with police and other authorities in PNG?

GUEST: They have said that the constitutional law reform committee is looking into it, but this has been going on for many years now. So I think not only perhaps does the law need to be reformed, but the police itself needs to be reformed and the Public Prosecutor office needs to be empowered and have more ability to cope with these crimes.

COONEY: I suppose it would come back, I’m sort of surmising a bit here myself, it comes to the cultural issues, if they believe it’s an issue and it’s something that goes back into culture and that, that’s a pretty hard thing to change, change like that doesn’t come easily and it doesn’t come with a lot of easy acceptance I would imagine?

GUEST: No I think that’s a good point and the sort of harmful traditions and practices that we’ve seen with regards to the status of women in PNG is perhaps related to this, where women are given inferior status. So it’s related to this, and yes it will take time, but I think that if the police and the actual rule of law can’t be beefed up so that people can begin to trust these authorities, then they won’t take the law into their own hands. And again getting back to education about causes of death would also help.

COONEY: What’s next then for Amnesty International and I would imagine other groups who have a major concern about this issue?

GUEST: We’ll continue to raise it with the government and certainly we know that some efforts are being made and it’s been acknowledged, but I think these words need to be translated into action. So we’ll continue to raise it as we have at the United Nations and with the government itself.


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