20 Nov 2013

Photographer reveals graphic images of sorcery violence in PNG

5:36 pm on 20 November 2013

A Russian documentary photographer and consultant to the United Nations says he has witnessed horrific cases of violence against women and children in Papua New Guinea.

Vlad Sokhin is a Russian photographer and has travelled widely in PNG over the last two years.

He showed graphic photos of victims of sorcery accusations at an Oxfam and Amnesty International event in Auckland last week.

Alex Perrottet was there.

Vlad Sokhin has made long visits to a range of places in PNG over the last two years, and has documented what he saw. He says women in the country are seen as the property of men, and young girls are regularly beaten and sexually abused. He tells the story of one old woman who was accused of using sorcery to cause a man's death.

"VLAD SOKHIN: When she attended the funeral they attacked her and put a rope on her neck and she managed to run away but someone followed her. In the night one drunk man came to her house and he wanted to chop off her head but she protected herself so he just chopped off her hand. And she was attended to at the local hospital, spent there about a week."

She has since returned to the village where the perpetrators of her maiming live close-by. Oxfam's Media and Communications Manager Jason Garman, who has just returned from PNG, says one reason why this happens is that people don't understand disease, and want to find someone to blame. He says education is a good starting point.

JASON GARMAN: But if they actually realised, malaria - you know to get 18,000, 19,000 cases of malaria every year, people are dying of cholera, they're dying from dengue fever. If you can give them that basic level of awareness and more people in the village realise 'That's not sorcery actually, I've seen that before, I know what that is, that's dengue fever', then it helps in the long term to solve this problem.

Jason Garman says only 50 per cent of students complete their primary schooling and families can't afford it, but there's an Oxfam project to help people grow bulb onions and sell them at the market, which has started to make a difference. But Vlad Sokhin says there are also more sinister reasons for sorcery accusations.

VLAD SOKHIN: When people want just to grab a house or land off someone marginalised in the community, like an old woman or an old man, they would prefer just to kill them and to get it, and sometimes it happens by relatives. If a mother died and she inherited a house to her daughter, not to her son, then he'd just prefer to accuse his sister of sorcery and just get the house.

The Executive Director of Amnesty International's New Zealand office, Grant Bayldon, says he was shocked by the photographs and praised Mr Sokhin for helping the women tell their stories.

GRANT BAYLDON: And I don't think that even those of us who work in this field were quite prepared for what we saw here, and some of the harrowing stories. But they're incredible images and I think they're most incredible for me because they pick up the strength of many of the women there and the personality and the courage of a lot of the people.

An international conference focussing on how to curb sorcery related violence is to be held early next month in Goroka.