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Papua New Guinea - Sorcery

The terms "sorcery" includes (without limiting the generality of that expression) what is known, in various languages and parts of the country, as witchcraft, magic, enchantment, puri puri, mura mura dikana, vada, mea mea, sanguma or malira, whether or not connected with or related to the supernatural.

The mere making of an implement of sorcery (including the adaptation of a thing so as to be an implement of sorcery) is not an act of sorcery, nor is a person who claims to have the power to make an implement of sorcery a sorcerer by virtue only of his claiming that power, if the implement is designed, intended or adapted for use both in acts of innocent sorcery and in acts of forbidden sorcery [an act of sorcery is intended to produce or purports to produce any unlawful result], depending on the use made of it in any given set of circumstances.

Innocent sorcery is sorcery that is protective or curative only, or is not intended to produce, and does not purport to be calculated or able or adapted to produce, any harmful or unlawful result, or to exert any harmful, unlawful or undue influence on any person; and is generally regarded in the social groups of which the accused person; and the person at whom the act was directed.

This would include any circumstance (including the courtship of an unmarried person by an unmarried person, betrothal, marriage, the fact that the act of sorcery was intended only to counteract or nullify the effect of a previous act of sorcery or any customary compensatory or conciliatory arrangement) that arose before the act of sorcery.

An accusation of sorcery obligates an individual to defend ones family, clan or tribe. This commitment has sometimes led to tribal fights and killings although its application varies from coastal areas to the highlands.

In 2013 following local and international criticism, the government repealed the controversial Sorcery Act, which provided a defense for violent crime if the accused was acting to stop witchcraft. In 2013 the government also passed laws to reactivate the death penalty and apply it to more crimes, including murder, rape, and robbery. The government continued to lack the capacity to enforce these laws or change the traditional beliefs underlying sorcery- related killings.

The government announced a Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP) aka National Action Plan on Sorcery and Witchcraft and approved 3 million kina ($969,000) for implementation of the plan, with in advocacy, counseling, health, legislative review and research.

Sorcery-related killings continued in numerous areas of the country and the phenomenon possibly is spreading. Some suggested internal migration and urban drift led to sorcery-related killings in districts formerly without such violence. After several incidents in August and September 2015, observers concluded that the number of women being tortured and killed under sorcery accusations was increasing. Many believed sorcery-related violence was used to mask violence against women or to attain revenge against another group or individual. Reliable data on the issue remained elusive.

For many people in remote parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG) health and illness have their origin in the invisible realm of spirits, ghosts and sorcerers. For instance, death from malaria may be interpreted as witchcraft and other deaths are attributed to the agency of ghosts. An accident, such as a fall, may be regarded by the victim and his family as the result of sorcery.

There is a widespread belief throughout the country that there is such a thing as sorcery and that sorcerers have extraordinary powers that can be used sometimes for good purposes but more often for bad ones, and because of this belief many evil things can be done and many people are frightened or do things that otherwise they might not do.

Some kinds of sorcery are practised not for evil purposes but for innocent ones and it may not be necessary for the law to interfere with them, and so it is necessary for the law to distinguish between evil sorcery and innocent sorcery. While concerned organisations, through documentaries and programs, have alerted many about the problem it still remains difficult to monitor and control.

The concept of sorcery is intrinsic, intertwined and ingrained into the cultural and traditional beliefs of spiritualism in different cultural and ethnic groupings. This compounded relationship makes conflict resolution in relation to sorcery very complex, consequently leading to inhuman tortures and killings. Though different forms of executions were traditionally practiced, the current forms of execution are very violent. Despite numerous efforts by police personnel and community leaders endeavoring to contain violence related to sorcery, it is escalating.

In PNG, most sorcery related killings happen in the Highlands region, while a few in Coastal communities. From police observation, crimes related to sorcery are increasing with family units breaking apart.

Violence related to sorcery is seldom linked to other misfortunes, such as theft or loss of jobs, but commonly linked to unexplained or sudden death of a person in a community. Tortures and killings are not perceived as revenge and violation of human rights by the perpetrators, but as social justice in many societies. Publicly staged tortures and killings is a sign of community condemnation of sorcery and a caveat to other sorcerers to refrain from practicing it. This implies that consensus on tortures and killings are communal, prevalent and involve many people in the society.

Accused victims undergo a varying degree of tortures and eventually death. Common ones imposed and inflicted include: chopped with axe and machetes, burnt alive, gashing, roasting over heated metal (such as roofing sheet), pushing of hot rods into female genitals, maiming, pushed over cliff, banished, trussed into hessian bags and thrown into rivers, thrown alive into toilet pit, gunned or beheaded, and eventually killed.

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Page last modified: 21-12-2016 19:24:18 ZULU