30 May 2013

Papua New Guinea parliament repeals Sorcery Act, reinstates execution

5:31 pm on 30 May 2013

Papua New Guinea's parliament has passed law changes enacting tough new sentences designed to counter violent crime.

This includes the repeal of the controversial 1971 Sorcery Act, following a string of high-profile murders of people accused of being sorcerers.

Also, the death penalty, which has been dormant in PNG since the 1950s, has been reactivated.

Jamie Tahana reports:

Calls for government action to counter sorcery-related deaths have been mounting for some time in PNG. The justice minister, Kerenga Kua, says the Sorcery Act has no place in a modern PNG and anyone who kills someone over a misplaced belief will face the death penalty. He says a massive media campaign will be held to educate the public about the decision.

KERENGA KUA: Sorcery-related killings would have to be brought to an end because if they didn't then they themselves would have to be brought to the same fate. So we're going to do a lot of campaigning to develop a high level of awareness throughout the country that it's simply does not pay to entertain that belief and then take it to the extreme of taking another person's life on account of that misplaced belief system.

Kerenga Kua, says reinstating the death penalty is a necessary step that has to be taken in the country's development. But Amnesty International's Pacific researcher, Kate Schuetze, says the move is a retrograde step. Ms Schuetze says international evidence shows capital punishment doesn't work as a deterrent and in some countries it has led to a much higher crime rate. She says if the government really wanted to do something, they should be investing in law enforcement and education to try and prevent violence.

KERENGA KUA: One of the things we've continuously heard is that the police are under-resourced. They need further training, they need further manpower on the ground. And government has rushed to a quick fix to this problem. And we say it's a solution that's not going to work and it also violates the most fundamental human right - the right to life.

Kerenga Kua says support for the death penalty was overwhelming, but insists the bill was robustly debated and that the argument was looked into.

KERENGA KUA: They are vocal but they are a minority. At the end of the day it is an agenda that has to be driven by the feel of the majority of the people in our own country. We had initiated debate last year and I had encouraged people to talk about it then. If you've been monitoring the discussions, the overwhelming majority of our people here say it is now time to take these kinds of measures.

The head of the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee, Ume Wainetti, says she is pleased something is being done to address the country's high level of violence. She says sorcery accusations are often used to mask domestic violence, but it is too soon to see what effect the new amendments will have on addressing this.

UME WAINETTI: This is government's way of saying, 'Enough is enough. Anybody who does this must be dealt with harshly.' To many it may not seem like the answer, but this is government's way of doing something about it. I really don't know what else we can do when we have such limited resources.

But Kate Schuetze says the death penalty will do nothing and what PNG needs are some proper anti-domestic violence laws.

KATE SCHUETZE: In order to address the sorcery-related crime and the violence against women you need to have domestic violence laws. Those domestic violence laws are drafted, but we need some further action on that. So whilst the repeal of the sorcery act is a positive step and a step forward a lot more needs to be done to tackle that issue.

Kerenga Kua says the drafted laws will be passed when Parliament next sits in July.