Authorities in Papua New Guinea must urgently step up protection for two women accused of “sorcery” whose lives are at imminent risk, Amnesty International said after a mob threatened them and hacked another woman to death last week.
On 26 May 2015 a group of men in a remote part of Enga province killed a woman identified only by the name Misila, after she had been accused of “sorcery”. The same group targeted two other women during the attack – they were assaulted and briefly held captive in a hut, but released after other villagers heard their screams.
The three women have been threatened since at least the beginning of the year. In January, local police intervened after the three women and their children received death threats and were accused of using “sorcery”. The police convinced members of the community to withdraw the accusations, but this failed to stop last week’s attack.
“The vicious killing of Misila highlights the Papua New Guinean government’s persistent failure to address the wave of attacks against those, mainly women, accused of ‘sorcery’. The government must act immediately to ensure that the perpetrators of such attacks are brought to justice,” said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher.“The fact that two other women who only narrowly escaped death last week are at imminent risk means that the government must act now. These two women must be given protection immediately and police must be given the resources to travel to remote communities so as to ensure the protection of others who are at risk, and to ensure that such attacks are investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty.”
Attacks against those accused of “sorcery”, who are mainly women, have been common in Papua New Guinea over the past years, and are also often used as a pretext to mask violence against women.
In May 2013, in a positive move, Papua New Guinea’s parliament repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act. The law had provided for a reduced sentence for anyone who committed assault or murder if they said their victim had been committing acts of “sorcery”. However, the harsher penalties have not reduced reported incidents of violence against alleged “sorcerers”.
“Papua New Guinea’s authorities must once and for all bring a halt to attacks against alleged ‘sorcerers’ and systemic violence against women. This should include addressing the root causes of these attacks through education and working closely with civil society, as well as taking immediate measures such as establishing shelters for women escaping violence,” said Kate Schuetze.