The United Nations (UN) system in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is gravely concerned by the torture and killing of Ms. Kepari Laniata, a 20-year-old young woman who was accused of using sorcery to kill a six-year old boy in Mount Hagen on 6 February 2013, and other cases of sorcery-related violence reported by the national media in recent days. The case of the late Ms. Laniata is unfortunately one of many and illustrates the need for urgent attention and action to address this serious human rights violation. Many such cases go unreported and grave injustice is done to the citizens of PNG.
The UN system in PNG is deeply disturbed with the rising number of cases of violence inflicted upon persons accused of sorcery across the country, the impunity shown to perpetrators of such acts, and the lack of support available for victims and their families. Great concern is also expressed for the large number of women, men and children who are accused of practicing sorcery and subsequently attacked, tortured and killed or banished from their communities.
During her 2012 visit to PNG, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, described the gravity of the situation as a “pervasive phenomenon” and stated that sorcery is often used as a pretext to mask abuse of women and children. The UN is shocked to learn that within a week of the murder of Ms. Laniata, yet another media report appeared on the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Mount Hagen. In this case, two women were initially accused of using sorcery to cause the death of the young girl and were subsequently tortured until the post-mortem of the child determined the cause of the death was not sorcery related. These cases also highlight the blatant, brutal and inexcusable acts of physical and sexual violence inflicted upon women and children across the country; a culture of violence which is both undeniable and rampant.
We urge the Government to take urgent action to end these harmful phenomena and to conduct fair and thorough investigations to arrest and prosecute perpetrators through the Criminal Code, and in accordance with its international obligations and the human rights principles enshrined in the National Constitution.
PNG is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). During the first periodic reporting on the CEDAW Convention in 2010, the Government made commitments to address sorcery-related violence against women as a priority and within two years report on the status of the problem. Unfortunately, this has not happened and a large number of citizens remain at risk of violence and possible death through sorcery-related accusation. We urge the Government to implement the recommendations made by the UN CEDAW Committee.
We welcome the work and research by the Constitutional Law Reform Commission and the Department for Justice and Attorney General on sorcery in PNG and their review of the Sorcery Act, and call for the Government to support and act on the recommendations of this work, including repeal of the Sorcery Act.
In addition to legal reform, the UN system in PNG highlights the urgent need for the Government to take action to prevent further cases of sorcery-related violence through a nation-wide awareness campaign to end vigilante killings and attacks on persons accused of sorcery, informing communities that they must not take the law into their own hands or they will be prosecuted accordingly; particularly targeting rural areas where the rates of attacks are higher. Support must also be given to human rights defenders and service providers who are courageously assisting victims of these attacks, and the prosecution of all cases through the national criminal justice system must be promoted.
We also call on the Government to work in partnership with civil society to provide protection as well as medical and psychosocial support services to persons accused of sorcery and their families who often suffer serious injuries and trauma following these attacks. The UN system in PNG will continue to work with the law enforcement agencies to strengthen their capacity to address violence against women and children and to strengthen system gaps and data gathering.
If you would like any further information, comment or interview please contact Alithia Barampataz, National Human Rights Officer (OHCHR), firstname.lastname@example.org, +675 321 2877.