Increasing sorcery-related killings in Papua New Guinea

Authorities in Papua New Guinea are being urged to take greater action to prevent further killings related to allegations of sorcery.

A father and son became the latest victims on Sunday. Local men in Ban village shot dead 60-year-old Plak Mel Doa and threw his body into a fire. His son, Anis Dua, was dragged from his home and burnt alive. Local people had accused them both of causing the death of a prominent member of the community by sorcery.

There has been an increase in reports of sorcery-related killings over the last year. According to the media there were over 50 such deaths in 2008.This is either because of an actual increase in such incidents or that more incidents are now being reported.

Reports have continued into this year. 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 on 30 January. A group of local men then hacked him to death with bush knives.

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

“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 visited the crime scene to 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 and Human Rights Watch sent joint letters to Minister for Justice Hon Dr Alan Marat and Police Commissioner Gari Baki on 26 January, 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.

The organization has called on the RPNGC to vigorously pursue investigations of all cases and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.