2 Dec 2013

Workshop looking at how to overcome sorcery-related violence in PNG

5:51 pm on 2 December 2013

Academics, politicians and civil society representatives are coming together this week in Goroka in Papua New Guinea to develop a national response to sorcery related violence.

It follows the international outcry earlier this year after the murders of several women in both the PNG Highlands and Bougainville, with the perpetrators justifying their actions by claiming the victims were sorcerers.

Our reporter Annell Husband is in Goroka for the workshop and I asked her what the delegates will focus on.

ANNELL HUSBAND: The cultural and legal issues that are involved in stamping out the violence that has become increasingly associated with sorcery. This workshop has been hosted by the university, but there are a number of different groups attending and also members of the government, including the prime minister.

DON WISEMAN: If their brief is overcoming the violence, do we know...?

AH: I'm not sure that their brief is actually overcoming the violence. That's obviously too much of an ask for this particular meeting. I think what they're planning to do is draw up some sort of action plan, which I guess, then, will go to the government with suggestions on how the government might tackle this slightly differently. I don't think it's just a matter of repealing the sorcery legislation. That's not going to be the answer to the problem.

DW: It's got to come back to changing attitudes, doesn't it?

AH: Yes. And as I understand it, sorcery is an entrenched part of many of the cultures that are in Papua New Guinea. And to greater or lesser degrees it is practiced and believed in. As I understand it, people across the spectrum - in the cultures where sorcery is believed in and practiced - people across the spectrum believe in it, it's not just a thing about people who live in rural areas. People who live in Port Moresby have a firm belief... It's a force. It's a real force. And as I understand it, in the past people would practice sorcery. People would be accused of practicing sorcery, and those people would be got rid of. They'd be killed by being pushed over a cliff or drowned. But what seems to be the case now is it's becoming increasingly associated with a prolonged death and torture. And it does appear that more and more women are being attacked under the guise of sorcery accusations. And it has been suggested that this is related to increasing abuses - alcohol and substances - and increasing disenchantment, particularly among young men who have may have had an education, then there's nothing for them but to return to their villages. And they've got no real employment prospects. They don't fit back into their culture of just tending to the food gardens. In that environment there's a much greater propensity for turning to alcohol and substance abuse and it has been suggested that that's playing a part.