Papua New Guinea must tackle the scourge of sorcery-related murder, the United Nations said yesterday, after an elderly woman was beheaded in the Pacific nation.
The UN demanded an end to extra-judicial killings linked to accusations of sorcery and renewed calls for the Government to repeal the Sorcery Act 1971, introduced to aid the passage of witchcraft cases through the courts.
While the act criminalised the practice of sorcery, human rights groups say it has also led to an increase in false accusations by people against their enemies and has given the notion of sorcery a legitimacy it would not otherwise have had.
"The provision of protection to victims of sorcery-related violence must also be increased as a matter of urgency," the UN said in a statement from Port Moresby.
"The UN is deeply disturbed with the increasing reports of violence, torture and murder of persons accused of practising sorcery around the country.
"These vigilante killings constitute murder and must not be treated with impunity," it added, relating "another horrific case" this week.
In the Bana district of South Bougainville two women accused of sorcery were kidnapped and tortured before one was beheaded.
"This case adds to the increase of reports of extra-judicial torture and killings of both men and women, especially elderly women, accused of sorcery," it said. "These reports raise grave concern that accusations of sorcery are used to justify arbitrary and inhumane acts of violence."
Local media had initially reported that both women were beheaded on Bougainville Island, where the novel Mister Pip by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones is set.
Media noted that police were present but were outnumbered by an angry mob and could do nothing to prevent the grisly deaths.
The women were tortured for three days, suffering knife and axe wounds, reports said. This was just days after six women accused of sorcery were reportedly tortured with hot irons in an Easter "sacrifice" in the Southern Highlands.
Last month, a woman accused of sorcery was stripped naked and burned to death by a mob.
There is a widespread belief in sorcery in PNG and many people do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune and death.
There have been several other cases of witchcraft and cannibalism in PNG in recent years, with a man reportedly found eating his newborn son during a sorcery initiation ceremony in 2011.