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10 February 2009

Papua New Guinea: Authorities must act now to prevent more witch hunts

The government of Papua New Guinea must act now to end a rash of more than 50 killings related to allegations of sorcery, Amnesty International said today.

The murder of a father and son in Ban village, a few kilometres from Mount Hagen on Sunday 8 February 2009 is the latest sorcery-related killing. 

Local men shot dead 60-year old Plak Mel Doa and threw his body into a fire whilst his son, Anis Dua, was dragged from his home and burnt alive.  Local people accused them of causing the death of a prominent member of the community by sorcery.

“When dozens of people have been killed after literal witch hunts, it’s clear that the government is not doing enough to protect its own citizens and maintain the rule of law,” said Apolosi Bose, Amnesty International’s Pacific Islands researcher. “The police and judicial authorities have to step in immediately before another person faces this kind of vigilante violence.”

Amnesty International pointed out that the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) is often unable to enforce the law. For instance, after the 8 February killings, police reported they wanted to visit the crime scene and confirm the men’s deaths, but heavily armed locals prevented them from removing the bodies to hospital for autopsies.

“People often don’t trust the police or the judiciary and instead blame events on supernatural causes and punish suspected sorcerers,” Apolosi Bose said. “The Constabulary, the Public Prosecution Office and other relevant authorities should step up efforts to curb vigilante violence and raise awareness in communities about ways in which people can legitimately seek justice.”

Amnesty International calls on the RPNGC to vigorously pursue investigations of all cases and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

On 26 January 2009 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sent joint letters to Minister for Justice Hon Dr Alan Marat and Police Commissioner Gari Baki expressing concern at ongoing reports of sorcery related killings, particularly of women, and called for greater action from the authorities to curb the violence and murders. To date, there has been no response.

Background

There has been an increase in reports of sorcery related killings in PNG over the last year. This is either because of an increase in such incidents or that there are now more incidents being reported in the media.
 
On 30 January 2009 a village court, comprising church pastors and local officials, found a 40 year old man from a village in Unggai-Bena district in the Eastern Highland province guilty of sorcery and sentenced him to death.  A group of local men then hacked him to death with bush knives.

On 6 January a group of men stripped a woman naked, gagged and burned her alive at Kerebug rubbish dump in Mount Hagen after she was suspected of practising witchcraft.

Region Asia And The Pacific
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