NZ urged to help repeal PNG Sorcery Act

By Cassandra Mason

New Zealand could play a role in repealing Papua New Guinean sorcery legislation following an Easter "witch-hunt" which saw the abduction and torture of seven locals, Amnesty International says.

The organisation is calling for a crackdown on sorcery-related violence after six women and a man were abducted and subjected to "appalling cruelty" by a group in Papua New Guinea who accused them of witchcraft.

Local media reported that Komape Lap, the only one in the group to escape, claimed he and the six women were bound, stripped naked and tortured on March 28 as part of an Easter "witch-hunt". The fate of the six women is still unknown and local police say they are investigating the incident.

But, in Papua New Guinea - where a belief in sorcery is culturally engrained - legislation called the Sorcery Act works similarly to how the Self-Defence Act works here in New Zealand, says Amnesty International's Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze.

And people who commit violence, including murder, can receive mitigated sentences if they claim they were acting to stop witchcraft.

Amnesty International wants to see the Sorcery Act repealed.

"Sorcery is a real belief held by Papua New Guineans and I don't refute that," said Schuetze.

"But what we're saying is that this type of violence is never acceptable and cannot be excused regardless of what your cultural beliefs are."

Schuetze said sorcery is often used as pretext to commit violence against women, who are six times more likely to be accused of witchcraft than men.

"We also heard when we were on mission last month that if a person accuses a woman of sorcery, they can do anything against them and no one will intervene to stop it."

Police, who face ongoing capacity issues, also find themselves unable to intervene when faced with large lynch mobs - meaning the fight needs to go to a higher level, she said.

"The [Papua New Guinea] government needs to send a clear message to the people that this type of violence will not be tolerated and anyone accused ... including murder, will be punished like any other person under the criminal code."

And New Zealand, which has a strong history of ties with Pacific Island nations, can help.

"[New Zealand] plays a good role in supporting Pacific Island countries to look into and reform so that they're in line with international human rights framework.

"So we would be calling on the New Zealand Government to use their diplomatic channels to raise this issue and encourage the Papua New Guinea government to repeal the Sorcery Act and increase protections to end violence against women."


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