On the 23rd of October, just on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, another horrific video of several women being tortured in Papua New Guinea has been released. These women are being tortured because of sorcery and witchcraft accusations. So, here we are: the World is celebrating 70 years of standing for Human Rights and promoting values such as freedom, respect and tolerance, and still, in many places around the world, barbaric violence, dehumanisation and terrible violations of people’s basic rights continue to take place.
How many more women need to be tortured and murdered before there is a formal response?
This one-minute-long video shows how a group of men armed with bush knives, and hot iron bars are torturing few women with the aim of extracting their confession. The women, accused of practising witchcraft to remove the heart of a young man who has fallen sick (supposedly dying), have been stripped naked, tied and brought to a public space where they are being beaten and badly injured. It does not matter how many times the women will deny the accusations, the aggressors, deeply convinced of their evil powers, are willing to torture them until they confess. The saddest part is that the most remarkable particularity of this specific case is that it has been filmed and publicly shared. Besides that, there is nothing that makes it different from the other hundreds of cases that occurr every year in Papua New Guinea. Everybody in the country is aware that these crimes happen quite commonly, especially in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and that most of them go unreported, leaving many people dead, perpetrators free and surviving victims unassisted. This issue has enormous repercussions and it is already creating a huge problem of internally displaced refugees, generating an environment of fear, social instability and insecurity, destroying families and hindering socio-economic development.
One case between hundreds
Once in a while, some very strong images leak. It is then when there is a general shock and people within the country and internationally get horrified. The explicit images appear on the news and make strong headlines that, unfortunately, soon disappear with our memories of them. Lamentably, many more women and men will continue to be tortured and killed in the following days, weeks and months. This is a constant threat, a brutal reality. It is actually happening and we all know it. Innocent people are being cruelly murdered once and again by people that walk out with complete impunity. How can this happen? How can we allow it?
What can be done? The SNAP.
The aim of this website, Stop Sorcery Violence in Papua New Guinea, is not only to highlight the violence caused by sorcery and witchcraft accusations, but also to show and put together the initiatives brought by several local activists in order to stop the killings.
It is impressive how many people, mainly very humble women, dedicate their lives to assist the victims of these attacks and advocate in order to prevent further violence. However, the individual efforts of these activists are clearly not enough. They work for free, with scarce resources, risking their personal security and challenging the pressure of the community often attached to very strong traditional cultural values. Still, it is not enough: the Government of Papua New Guinea is responsible for the protection and well-being of its citizens and has to take a stand: a firm capable stand that needs to happen NOW. Local activists and international organisations have been claiming and begging for the government’s involvement already for years. How many more women need to be tortured and murdered before there is a formal response?
Initially triggered by a conference in June 2013 in Canberra about the implications of sorcery and witchcraft beliefs in Melanesia, a group of relevant stakeholders have been working hard to develop a holistic comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem at all levels, attending to the distinct areas that need to be taken into account, such as care and counselling, advocacy, health, legal and protection, or research. After more than two years of work, the PNG Government finally approved the Sorcery National Action Plan (SNAP) on July 2015, a huge achievement to address and solve the problem of sorcery and witchcraft accusation-related violence from its roots. Now that the plan is approved it is time for implementation. The SNAP needs to be a priority. It really needs to be on the top of the list. It cannot be forgotten inside a drawer or postponed and postponed, while children and women are living in fear witnessing new deaths every other day.
Now it is the time. No need for lighting in blue any special landmark in the capital. The Government of Papua New Guinea should show its support for such an important date as it is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, by standing for its people, protecting them, giving them the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling life, free of fear and insecurity. Sorcery and witchcraft accusation related violence MUST STOP NOW, and that will only happen if the PNG Government takes further actions. We have a call for the Government: Papua New Guinea needs its Sorcery National Action Plan as soon as possible!
On the Sorcery National Action Plan of Papua New Guinea (SNAP):
- Forsyth, Miranda. 2014a. New Draft National Action Plan to Address Sorcery Accusation-Related Violence in Papua New Guinea. SSGM In Brief 2014/18. Canberra: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program, The Australian National University.
- Film: Developing a Sorcery National Action Plan for Papua New Guinea
About sorcery and witchcraft related violence in Papua New Guinea and local initiatives that are taking place:
- Forsyth, Miranda and Richard Eves (eds.) 2015. Talking it Through: Responses to Sorcery and Witchcraft Beliefs and Practices in Melanesia. Canberra: ANU E Press.
- Films: Countering Sorcery and Witchcraft Related Violence in Papua New Guinea, Teaser, Legal Responses to Sanguma, Interview to Bishop Anton Bal, Interview to Lilly Be’soer.