Vanuatu Govt urged to take action over sorcery
An author of a report into sorcery and criminal law in Vanuatu says the state has a role to play in protecting people from malicious accusations of black magic.
An author of a report into sorcery and criminal law in Vanuatu says the state has a role to play in protecting people from malicious accusations of using black magic.
Miranda Forsyth, of Australian National University, says marginalised members of communities are often accused of sorcery or witchcraft, such as women and the elderly.
Her comments follow the arrest of a group of church pastors and custom chiefs in Malekula for allegedly ordering the hanging of two men who they claimed were practising black magic.
Dr Forsyth spoke to Amelia Langford about her research.
MIRANDA FORSYTH: In general this is a very complex issue which needs to be dealt with by the state courts but also by the customary authorities and also by the churches - so all three of those need to be involved in a really comprehensive way. There are elements that the state can certainly play so for example the offense could be worded in a way that doesn't require there to be proof of sorcery and witchcraft. So for example if somebody makes a threat that they will hurt somebody through using sorcery or witchcraft - that could be a way of dealing with that problem and then of course the state courts have got a role to protect those who have been accused of committing sorcery and witchcraft - so the state has got a role to playing in saying, for example, 'you can't make malicious accusations of sorcery and witchcraft' or 'you shouldn't incite violence against people accused of sorcery and witchcraft'. Those are other possible offences that a state penal code could have in order to deal with this issue.
AMELIA LANGFORD: Yes, and of course, we just had a recent example in Malekula, where two men were hanged because they were accused of sorcery. And they didn't through any sort of trial. And of course, how can you prove sorcery?
MF: Yes, so when you say they didn't go through any trial, that's right - they didn't go through any state trial. Apparently they were alleged to have been doing this by people who were praying, who were engaged in this particular prayer circle and that seems to be something that is happening more and more often now. Whereby these particular pentecostal forms of Christianity are encouraging praying and then divining of people who are engaged in sorcery and witchcraft. In the past there have been other methods that have been used in order to work out who are the sorcerers - so diviners have been used, dreams, visions and so forth are used. So presumably a process like that was gone through to identify these people. But then they were horrifically tortured I understand before being hung. So, again this shows that there also needs to be awareness-raising, there needs to be education about the fact that torture is not going to lead to confessions that can be relied on in any way. If you torture somebody then they are likely to confess to being a sorcerer or witch in order to make that stop.
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