Justice in Vanuatu: 5 men sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the brutal killing of two men accused of practicing witchcraft.

Justice in Vanuatu: 5 men sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the brutal killing of two men accused of practicing witchcraft.

A total of 12 people were judged last week by the Supreme Court of Vanuatu for the killing of two innocent men suspected of practicing witchcraft. They were charged with unlawful assembly and intentional homicide for the facts occurred in Akham Island last November. Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek applied a final sentence of 15 years of imprisonment for the 5 men directly involved in the killing, and 1 year of jail for each one of the 7 men responsible for organizing the unlawful assembly that led to the murder.

This sentence sets an example worth to be considered by Papua New Guinean authorities

men-jailDespite of how much we hear about cases of witchcraft and sorcery related violence in Papua New Guinea, one of the things that local and international activists rightly complain about is the lack of accountability for the perpetrators of these horrific crimes. Widely known murders such as the one of Kepari Leniata in February 2013, continue unaddressed more than two years later, waiting for a formal investigation and prosecution in court. It is for this reason that today we want to highlight the remarkable action taken by the Vanuatu Supreme Court. This Court has been strongly prosecuting the people responsible for the barbaric killing, which took place in November 2014 at Akham Island, in Vanuatu, where a group of people intentionally caused the death of two men suspected of having killed three people by practicing sorcery.

The facts

According to the facts exposed in the Court decision released on the 16th of April by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Vanuatu, the Chiefs and the community of Akham area celebrated three different meetings following three different deaths. The objective of these meetings was to determine what people in the community were practicing witchcraft. During the assemblies, a total of seven men were suspected and accused of practicing witchcraft. While five of these accused admitted their guilt, the other two denied their involvement, firing up the anger of one of the leaders, who ordered the five men to kill the other two. The leader provided weapons and the five men who had admitted their guilt, together with the support of many villagers present at the community hall, tortured and hung the two innocent men, causing their death by strangulation and massive loss of blood.

The approach

Stop Sorcery Violence fully supports the words of Justice Lunabek regarding how people should deal with the cases of suspected witchcraft and how crucial is for the State to send a clear message about the illegality of this kind of crimes:

“The accused and any villager for that matter who believed or thought that the deceased were practicing sorcery or witchcraft and were responsible for the killing of the three people at Akham Island, should have complained to the relevant authorities. Instead they decided to impose their own system of justice, when they had no right to do that. The accused have no justification whatsoever to do that. The chiefs and leaders of the community involved in this barbaric execution but not charged in this case, had no right to do that either.

The offending in the present case amount to arrogance and a complete disregard for the constitution, the law and the sanctity of life tat God gave and no one has the right to take away prematurely.

The present case is a very serious premeditated and barbaric killing. Killing someone is against the law and the courts have a responsibility in demonstrating through the penalties they impose that the prevalence of a crime like this must be a public deterrence and retribution. The punishment must also show that the law does not approve of killing of sorcerers no matter how much people believe in sorcery.

Justice in Vanuatu: 5 men sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the brutal killing of two men accused of practicing witchcraft.

You can find here a link to the full document of the sentence released by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Vanuatu (Criminal Case No.03 of 2015) on the 16th of April 2015.

If you are interested on this topic, please let us know your opinion. Do you think it is a fair sentence? Should these procedures be applied in Papua New Guinea? Would a stronger prosecution of these crimes reduce their prevalence?
 
Justice in Vanuatu: 5 men sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the brutal killing of two men accused of practicing witchcraft.