Doctors Richard Eves and Miranda Forsyth of the Australian National University will be convening a conference to discuss sorcery and witchcraft related killings in Melanesia.
The conference will run for two days from June 5th at the Australian National University Pacific Institute.
Dr Miranda Forsyth told ABC News intern Louisa Wright, how the conference will tackle the issue of sorcery killings.
Presenter: Louisa Wright
Speaker: Dr Miranda Forsyth of the Australian National University
FORSYTH: It's been a growing problem for quite a while in PNG but also in Vanuatu and in Solomon Islands. And what the conference is going to focus on is how the issue can actually be addressed in policy and in practical terms. So we're hoping to bring together academics as well as activists and various different people involved in regulation of this area in the region, so that includes churches for example, to really discuss what regulatory solutions could be used to deal with the problems that these sort of beliefs are creating.
WRIGHT: And are there any general ideas about what can be done?
FORSYTH: Well yes we've had quite a lot of abstracts that have come forth and shown that there have been different local initiatives that have managed to work quite well in particular areas. And those have been based around community activism basically. And so what we're hoping the sort of vision that I can imagine based on the research that was done today, is that the response is going to have to involve both the state, but also churches and community groups all working together to find solutions. I don't think that just one of those institutions has got all of the resources necessary to deal with it. So it's going to have to be a joint effort by those three different groups.
WRIGHT: And why have sorcery killings become more public?
FORSYTH: Well I suppose that there's now Facebook and all of the social media that is being used across the region, so that's bringing it more to the attention of the outside world. But if you mean why has it become more public within, or I'm not sure that they actually have become, it's certainly occurring more now than was in the past, so people are talking about them more now. Maybe the incidents of them is increasing, so there are a number of different reasons that are given for that. The rise of HIV AIDS in PNG for example, which means that there are a lot more unusual types of deaths, mean that people are looking for people to blame for that. And so therefore there are accusations of witchcraft and sorcery. Also in Vanuatu, which is where I work, then I would say that one of the biggest catalysts for sorcery and witchcraft accusations is economic disparity. So people become jealous of somebody who has become more economically successful, and then there are a whole lot of accusations that come out about witchcraft and sorcery from that. Those are the sorts of driver.
WRIGHT: So you think sorcery as an example for these killings, it often actually isn't really sorcery, they're kind of using it as a backup for the real reason?
FORSYTH: Well I don't believe personally that these things are actually sorcery. But there are people in the region believe very much that this is sorcery, so they are looking for solutions to problems like HIV AIDS, unusual deaths. They're trying to find reasons why these things have happened, and their belief systems include the belief in sorcery or in witchcraft. There are different gender dimensions, the reason that I'm saying sorcery or witchcraft is because this issue takes different forms in different places and it has different gender dimensions. So in PNG for example most of the time the people who are accused of it are women, so that's very strongly gendered. Whereas in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu that's not the case.